1st Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. Speaker took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– I wish to know from the Attorney-General whether, since those whose interests are deeply affected by the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill are now considering the details of the measure, he will promiso definitely that no division shall be taken upon its second reading until at least next week?
– Although I am anxious to expedite the passing of the measure, I assure the honorable and learned member that there will be no division before next Tuesday.
– I wish to know from the Postmaster-General if the petitions which he told me, on 4th August, had not yet reached his Department, have got there, and if so, whether tenders have been called for the construction of the Kadina Post-office ?
– Owing to my temporary absence from Melbourne, I have not yet been informed.
– As it appears from this morning’s Argus that the three carpenters who arrived in Australia by the steamer Gera have been allowed to land, I ask the Prime Minister what special skill they possess, and what are the conditions of the contract by which they are bound ?
– Although I have not the papers with me - because I did not know this morning that the honorable member intended to ask the question - I am able to say that one of the three men produced a written contract - and the other two admitted that they were bound by similar contracts - under which he was to receive a wage of £1 2 10s. a month, together with travelling expenses; and all three stated that they would be provided with board and lodging. The contract also provides that they are to have the premium upon half of an insurance of £500 upon . each of their lives. They have been engaged in connexion with the erection of machinery for a special process of treating ores at the Lancelot mine, at Herberton, North Queensland, and the inquiries which I have made satisfy me that they are persons of skill who are required in Australia.
– Is the Prime Minister awarethat the Agents-General of the States in London are now engaged in an almost fierce controversy upon the question of preferential trade? Will the right honorable and learned gentleman protest to the States against this meddling interference upon the part of their officers, and prevent the constant misrepresentation of the public opinion of the Commonwealth?
– Although I have not had time to consider the question, I would point out that the Agents-General of the States are officers occupying a high position under the Governments of the States, and as representative citizens are necessarily interested in the question of preferential trade. It does not seem to me, therefore, that the expression of their opinions on the subject is a sufficient reason for provoking a dispute with the Governments which they represent, which might lead to considerable friction, without any very beneficial result.
– Does the Prime Minister approve of what the AgentsGeneral are doing?
– It would be hard to say that I disapprove. I think that they are entitled to express their opinions, either for or against preferential trade. Although the Agents-General are temporarily residing in England, they are prominent citizens of the Commonwealth, and as such are entitled to express their opinions upon a subject like this. It must, of course, always be remembered that opinions so expressed have no official weight, and if such weight is given to them it is wrongly sogiven, because they in no sense represent the Commonwealth as an entity. But having regard to the fact that the expression of their opinions must be taken tobe purely the expression of their personal views, I do not think that there is any comment to make on their action.
Resolved (on motion by Mr. Reid) -
That leave of absence for one month be granted to the right honorable member for Tasmania, Sir Edward Braddon, on the ground of ill-health.
– Assistant laid upon the table the following paper : -
Customs Prosecutions : Return to orders of the House, dated 12th and 20th June, 1903.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
– I move -
That this House approves of the proposed distribution of the State of South Australia into seven divisions, named Adelaide, Port Adelaide, Angas, Barker, Chamberlain, East Torrens, and Flinders, and shown on the maps laid upon the table of the House of Representatives on the 7th July last.
I intend to ask the House to deal with the proposed distribution of the States into electoral divisions in the order in which the subject has been reported upon by the Commissioners for the States, and their reports laid upon the table of the House. The first proposed distribution to be completed and laid before honorable members was that of the State of South Australia. It will be remembered that when this Parliament was elected, the States of South Australia and Tasmania were not divided into electoral divisions, and, therefore, are now in a somewhat different position from the remaining States. Personally I do not know much of the divisions proposed for South Australia, but I have made all the inquiries I possibly could, and I have had before me, of course, the Commissioner’s report. He has named the various electorates, and I am informed that there is some desire to alter the names, or some of them. I do not suppose that there will be any great objection to any amendments which may be suggested by representatives of South Australia who may strongly desire an alteration in the case of any particular electorate. I think I arn expressing the opinion of those who are acquainted, with the proposed divisions when I say that there is no serious objection to be taken to them. The number of the electors in each electorate is as follows : - In the electorate of Adelaide 23,518, Port Adelaide 23,563, East Torrens 26,727, Barker 21,791, Angas 23,593, Chamberlain 23,761, and Flinders 22,235. In the case of EastTorrens and Chamberlain there is a certain number above the quota. In East Torrens the number is 3,129, and in Chamberlain 163. The number in Adelaide is 80 below the quota ; in Port Adelaide, 35 ; Barker, 1,807 ; Angas, 5; and Flinders, 1,363. As I have explained there does not seem to be much objection taken to the provisions proposed, and I have, therefore, to move that they be accepted. This action is taken under the Commonwealth Electoral Act. The Commissioners were appointed under the provisions of that statute. At the time the Bill was first introduced it was proposed that there should be three Commissioners, but objection was raised to that proposal in this House, and ultimately a compromise, as it may, perhaps, be called, was agreed to, and it was decided to have one Commissioner instead of three. I personally, and I think the Ministry as a whole, were in favour of having three Commissioners, but, strong objections having been raised to the proposal, it was decided that one Commissioner only should be appointed for each State. The officer in South Australia was Commissioner Boothby, a gentleman who, so far as I can ascertain, held the confidence of all the representatives of that State, and I think also of its people. Of course I obtained my information concerning him through the representatives of the State. I regret to say that that gentleman has died since he completed hia task. I think we may all regret the fact, and I have already paid a tribute to his memory so far as I could, because I ascertained that he was a man highly respected by every one, and that that is why his appointment gavesuch universal satisfaction. The Commissioner in each State was called upon to carry out the provisions of sections 19, 20 and 21 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act. It will be noticed that under these sections it was necessary, after making the divisions, that thirty days’ notice should be given with a view to objections being raised. If, at the expiration of that time, any objections were raised sufficiently serious to require an alteration of the divisions proposed, the Commissioner would have an opportunity of altering them. In the case of South Australia, no alteration was proposed up to the end of thethirty days. It will be found that section 21 of the Act says -
If both Houses of Parliament pass a resolution approving of any proposed distribution, the Governor-General may by proclamation declare the names and boundaries of the divisions, and such divisions shall, until altered, be the Federal divisions for the State in which they are situated.
If either House of the Parliament passesa resolution disapproving of any proposed distribution, or negatives a motion for the approval of any proposed distribution, the Minister may direct the Commissioner to propose a fresh distribution of the State into divisions. The proceedings are, I think, entirely in the hands of the Government after the matter is dealt with by the House. I do not think there is any necessity to speak at greater length upon this motion.
– I have much pleasure in supporting the motion of the Minister for Trade and Customs.
– The right honorable gentleman might wait until he hears the views of representatives from South Australia.
– I am quite willing to give way toany member of the State who desires to speak. I suppose I shall have a right to speak later, and that I shall not forfeit that right in giving way now.
Mr. BATCHELOR (South Australia).I have to beg the right honorable gentleman’s pardon for interrupting him, butI thought that possibly he would rather hear whether there was any proposition to dissent, and the reasons for any such dissent before he committed himself to the Government proposal or against it.
– No reasons for assent have yet been given.
– I move-
That the motion be amended by the omission of the word “ approves,” line 1, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the word “disapproves.”
I propose this amendment entirely apart from any objection with respect to the. names, though I think that the divisions have not been well chosen. For instance, we have a “Flinders” in “Victoria already, and it would be confusing to have two members for Flinders in the House. Then the name “ Chamberlain” is one to which objection may be taken as it has no special connexion with the State of South Australia. I make no other reference to the name, but thereare no towns, livers, bays, or gentlemen of the name of Chamberlain prominent in South Australian history. The names of some of these proposed Federal electoratesare the same as those of State electorates, while the electorates themselves are not coterminous in their boundaries, and that, I think, will be found inconvenient. I do not desire at present to discuss the question of names. My chief objection to the proposed divisions is, that I do not consider that they will enable a fair representation of the opinions of the electors of South Australia to be secured. That, I think, is the only reason which can fairly be advanced in objection to any electorate proposed - that it will not insure a fair representation of the political views of the electors. I admit that two difficulties confront me in connexion with my amendment. The first is that no opposition was shown by the electors to the divisions made by the Electoral Commissioner. I cannot blame the Government for proposing that the report of that officer should be adopted, because they have nothing else to guide them. The late Mr. Boothby received no suggestions for alterations of the boundaries during the time specified under the Act. The reasons for this omission are not apparent. Some opposition has since been evinced, because meetings have been held to protest against the boundaries recommended by the Com missioner, and I believe that some of the resolutions passed at such meetings were sent to an honorable member of this House. The other difficulty is that the time now left for sending back the report to the Commissioner, and considering any alterations that may be afterwards made, and arriving at a final decision before the elections are to be held, is very short. Therefore, it seems to me that, if we desire the State of South Australia to be divided, we are almost bound to approve of the divisions. I do not think the Government have dealt fairly with us in submitting the report some six weeks after it was received. The report from South Australia was the first received from the States, and it should have been submitted at the first possible opportunity in order that we might fairly consider it, and secures the adoption of any alterations that might be considered desirable. Therefore I think I have some right to complain of the action of the Government in delaying this matter for a period of six weeks. The difficulty is not so great in regard to the other States, because, in the event of the new divisions not proving acceptable, they have the present divisions to fallback upon, whereas, inthecase of South Australia, the electors will have to vote as at the first elections unless the subdivision of the State is agreed upon. We must remember also that, until this House agrees to some subdivision, the State Parliament can exercise its rights and divide the State into electorates for the purposes of the Federal election. This fact places us in a most unfair position. My objection to the proposed subdivision is that it will not permit of a fair representation of the opinions of the people of South Australia.
– Does the honorable member mean that due regard has not been paid to community of interests?
– That term is so vague that I do not know what it means. It is difficult to say where community of interests begins and ends. I object to the concentration of the democratic vote into one constituency.
– Is not that what would be called community of interests ?
– Community of interests surely does not mean that all those persons holding certain political views should be “jammed “ into one constituency.
– Does the honorable member wish the electors favorable to the labour party to be split up so that they could not return even one representative?
– I should like to be allowed to state the matter in my own way. At the last Federal election the leader of the conservative party received 27,000 votes, and the leader of the labour party 24,000 votes. Therefore, there was a difference of only 3,000 votes for the whole of the State, whereas, in six out of the seven districts now proposed, the leader of the conservative party beat the leader of the labour party, even though the voting was in the proportion of four conservative to three labour votes.
– Is the honorable member speaking of thelabour vote only?
– I am taking the extreme vote on either side, because it would be impossible to tell how other votes were cast.
– How can the honorable member tell that the electors voted one way or the other?. Would it not be possible for the labour votes to be given to other than labour candidates ?
Mr.BATCHELOR.- I am speaking of the votes that were cast for the direct labour representatives. I do not wish to unfairly represent the matter. At the last subdi vision of the electoral district for State purposes, the labour vote was concentrated in accordance with what I believe was a deliberate plan to defeat the labour party. They concentrated the votes where the labour party had been successful. The Electoral Commissioner was a gentleman for whom I have the highest respect, and I am not imputing any unfairness upon his part. I believe that he adopted a wrong basis, but I do not for a moment imagine that he deliberately intended to concentrate the votes in the way that he has done. The State Parliament is responsible for the original concentration of the labour vote. At the last election that concentration had the effect of nullifying a considerable number of democratic votes, with the result that the strength of the labour party in South Australia has been considerably reduced. I repeat that the Electoral Commissioner took the divisions adopted by the State Parliament as his basis. Hence the concentration which arises. To equalize matters as nearly equal as possible under the quota, he intensified this evil by taking out of a constituency which had no very pronounced political views, a district in which there was a strong democratic vote, and including it in an already concentrated labour centre.
– In taking out Glenelg he excluded a conservative district.
– That is exactly what I desired the honorable member to say.
– The districts nearly balance.
– I am aware that Glenelg, Marion, and Sturt very nearly balance Goodwood ; but, in taking out these districts from the district of Torrens, what did the Commissioner do ? He included the district in which the labour party had been very successful, in that of Port Adelaide, which was already entirely composed of democratic voters. Then he included the conservative end of Glenelg, Marion, and Sturt in the Barker district, which had no particular bias, and as a result the alteration effected dominates that district in a conservative direction. Had he made a fair subdivision, he would have included the conservative district of Glenelg in that of Port Adelaide, with whichit has a community of interests - because it certainly has a community of interests with the Semaphore, Henley Beach, and the other watering places which it adjoins.
– With all except Port Adelaide, the voting in which dominates the whole position.
– It has a greater community of interests as a watering place with the other watering places which it adjoins, than with the district of Mount Gambier, which is some 300 miles away. Why should Glenelg or any other district be manipulated merely for party purposes ? That is what I object to.
– Does the honorable member suggest that the Commissioner was influenced by party considerations ?
– No. I merely ask why a district should be manipulated for party purposes ? I make no reflection upon the Commissioner. I think that he made a mistake in taking as his basis the existing divisions for the State Parliament. Having done so, he was in a difficulty to make up his quota, and in the particular instance to which I am referring he adopted a course which has resulted in including all the democratic votes in one constituency.
– It would be very handy for an elector to have his vote for the Federal and the State Parliaments, as far as possible, in the same constituency.
– It would be very much preferable if it were possible. From that point of view I admit that the action of the Commissioner was justified. He looked at the matter from an entirely nonparty stand-point. Nevertheless this House has a right to consider the effect of any subdivision which he has recommended, and if the effect of that subdivision is to give an unfair indication of the opinions of the electors of South Australia, we ought to insist upon an alteration of the boundaries. It is our business to look at the political side of this question.
– That would lead to gerrymandering of the very worst type.
– There can be no gerrymandering when the position is put openly before the country, as I am putting it now.
– It is all the same.
– If the leader of the Opposition means that I am attempting to do anything for the sake of securing an advantage to any honorable members of this House-
– I do not wish to imply that.
– I do not imagine for a moment that the right honorable and learned member means that. So far as I am personally concerned - as I shall probably contest the Port Adelaide seat - the subdivision recommended by the Commissioner would make my position perfectly secure. It is almost unthinkable that I should receive any opposition.
– They mustbe a wonderfully intelligent body of electors.
– They are ; but if my suggestion were adopted I should certainly have to face opposition at the forthcoming election. If Glenelg, Brighton, and Start were included in the district of Port Adelaide, and if Goodwood were excluded, it would alter the position very materially.
– Not appreciably.
– There are 2,500 votes in the district of Goodwood, the great majority of which are cast in the democratic interest. In Glenelg and Sturt there are 2,000 odd votes, which give an even larger majority to the conservative party. Yet, if we exclude the 2,500 votes and include the 2,000 votes, the honorable member declares that the position will not be appreciably altered.
Mr.v. L. Solomon. - If we included the whole of the Glenelg district in that of Port
Adelaide, it would not alter the position one iota.
– If that be so, it bears out my statement that the whole of the democratic electors have been packed into one constituency, especially when it is possible to substitute some 2,500 conservative electors for 2,500 democratic ones without appreciably altering the result. It is possible, according to the honorable member, to alter some 5,000 votes out of a totalof 23,000 without making any appreciable difference.
Mr.V. L. Solomon. - It would simply disfranchise Glenelg, Brighton, and certain other places.
– Why ?
– Because they would be absolutely overwhelmed by the Port Adelaide vote.
– It would disfranchise the minority.
– If these divisions be adopted more than one-third of the electors of South Australia will be disfranchised in the sense in which the honorable member uses that term. The electors of Goodwood, according to the honorable member’s assumption, have a right to use their influence in the districtof Torrens, to which they properly belong.
– Hear, hear. I agree with that.
– The municipality of Unley has been torn asunder, and a portion of it attached to another electoral district. However, Ido not intend to dwell upon this matter. I have placed the position before the House, and I defy any honorable member who is familiar with the conditions which prevail in South Australia to’ dispute one word which 1 have uttered.
– Is there now any chance of obtaining an alteration of these divisions ?
– That is a very pertinent question. Recently I asked the Minister whether it would be possible to obtain an alteration of the divisions before the next elections, but I did not obtain an answer in the form in which I desired that it should be given. I simply wished him to say “ Yes “ or “ No “ to my question. The reply was that the reconsideration of the divisions by the Commissioner, the exhibition of the new map in public places, and the return of the. report to this House, would extend over a period of some 46 days, and that some 30 days would elapse. between the holding of the revision court and the issue of the writ. There would thus be a total delay of some 76 days. At the end of that time if we were dissatisfied with any alterations made by the Commissioner, it would be impossible for us to remedy the trouble. We should be compelled to accept the changes even if the divisions were more objectionable than those now before us. I admit that there is considerable difficulty in the way, but the. fact that the effect of returning these divisions to the Commissioner might be that South Australia would ha ve to be polled as one electorate at the next general elections would not warrant my remaining silent and approving of something of which I very much disapprove.
– What is the honorable member’s objection to the Port Adelaide Division?
– If the honorable member will turn to the map he will see that a curious division has been made. The Goodwood district, as the honorable member knows, comprises a democratic section of the community. It is a ward in the municipal district of Unley, but it has been separated from that municipality and attached to the Port? Adelaide district.
– Does the honorable member desire that it should be cut out of the electorate of Port Adelaide?
– In order that something like fair play may be shown to parties, I suggest that the district of Goodwood should not be divorced from the municipality to which it belongs.
– What about the Sturt district - Brighton, Glenelg, and so forth.
– I care not what is done in that direction ; but if Goodwood is taken away from the Port Adelaide electorate, it will be necessary to make up the quota by adding to Port Adelaide a neighbouring district in which there is community of interest, although there may be no real harmony of political opinions.
– What district would the honorable member add to Port Adelaide ?
– I should certainly add the adjoining districts of Glenelg, Brighton, and other watering places.
– Would the honorable member substitute Glenelg for Goodwood?
– That is what should have been done.
– That is what the honorable member wants ?
– It is not what I want, but what I consider ought to be done in order to obtain a fair subdivision. Apart from the matters to which I have referred, I believe that generally speaking the Commissioner has very fairly divided the State into electorates.
– And the objection raised by the honorable member is a purely political one.
– I complain also that no community of interest is obtained by attaching Glenelg to the Southern District which stretches away to Mount Gambier on the Victorian border. Glenelg is really a seaside suburb of Adelaide. If community of, interest is to be considered, it should certainly be bracketed with other watering places adjoining it. It will be observed that while the Commissioner has, generally speaking, adhered very closely to the quota in subdividing the State into electorates, the district of East Torrens comprises 26,727 electors, whilst the adjoining district of Barker comprises only 21,791 electors - a difference of some 5,000. That difference is material only from the point of view that East Torrens is growing more rapidly than is any other part of the State, and that in the course of some two years at the outside another redistribution will be necessary in view of the fact that the number of the electors in the district is already very close to the prescribed limit. On the other hand, Barker is not making rapid headway, and there has been practically no change for a great many years in the number of its electors. Its population is unlikely to overtake the quota for some time to come. Even at the risk of having to go back to the old state of things, and leaving it to the State Parliament to make the divisions, the proposed scheme of redistribution should be sent back, though I do not want honorable members to believe for a moment that I advocate this course for any personal or party interest other than I can absolutely justify anywhere. . Any one who knows the position in South Australia will admit that it is exactly as I have put it before the House.
– I am sorry that I cannot agree with the honorable member who has just spoken, that the House should express its disapproval of the proposed distribution. No doubt there are very few divisions which, from the party point of view, might not be improved by some alteration. The distribution made by the late Mr. Boothby, three or four years ago, would have suited me, personally, very much better than that now under discussion ; but, as in reporting to this Parliament he was tied down to some extent by the provisions of the Constitution relating to the quota,.I think that his distribution is, on the whole, as good as any that could be made.
– The distribution he made three or four years ago was a perfectly fair one, and would have given satisfaction.
– Although I think it was a good one, I know that it was open to objections, and when it was submitted to the South Australian Assembly there was a diversity of opinion among the two parties in the House with regard to it. The duties of the electorate which I should have represented under that scheme of distribution would have been absolutely a sinecure. In my opinion, the distribution now suggested is a very fair one, and, remembering the conditions with regard to the quota, I fail to see that any other distribution could be suggested which would not be open to objection.
– The Commissioners are not bound to consult the interests of Members of Parliament.
– I think that the honorable member for South Australia, Mr. Batchelor, is under a mistake in thinking that community of interests has any connexion with party interests.
– I distinctly object to party interests being taken into consideration.
– No doubt ; but the effect of the honorable member’s argument was that the labour party would suffer to some extent in a contest for the Torrens seat, because a number of electors who would support a labour candidate have been placed in the Port Adelaide instead of in the Torrens division. The honorable member is quite unselfish in his objection to the suggested distribution, because he asks that what is at present a sure thing for himself, should be altered, and possibly an arrangement made which would require him to contesthis seat. I would point out to honorable members that the views of political parties change from time to time. The party in power to-day may three or four years hence be advocating the policy of the present Opposition, and it would be impossible to continually alter the boundaries of the divisions to meet the change in the views of political parties. In my opinion, section 16 of the Act seems to contemplate physical and geographical lines of demarcation rather than political interests.
– Should not community of industrial interests be taken into consideration?
– Yes ; but I do not think that the strength or weakness of the labour party, for example, can be taken into consideration by a Commissioner in dealing with industrial interests.
– A manifest attempt to gerrymander the divisions so as to deprive a party of representation in some of them would be unfair.
– Of course it would. The Commissioner should have nothing to do with political interests, and presumably Mr. Boothby, in making his distribution, never for a moment considered its effect upon the representation of political parties. He, no doubt, gave consideration, as the Act prescribes that the Commissioner shall, to community of interests, and such matters as proximity to ports, railways, and other conditions. The congestion of the labour vote in any particular district was a matter which I am sure did not enter his head. The cure for such an objection as that is the adoption of proportional representation.
– Should it not be our object to see that each party is fairly represented according to its numbers ?
– A lovely map would be made under that system.
– This is a lovely map.
– On a question of this sort, I would rather trust one man outside the House than twenty in it.
– If we try to get a representation of party interests there will be no end to the alteration of suggested distributions. Every distribution we get will be open to some objection.
– But surely we can object to any distribution which gives an unfair preponderance of power to any political party?
– One side or the other will always think that of any distribution. I do not accept the views of the honorable member for South Australia, Mr. Batchelor, on this subject as conclusive. Probably his colleague, Mr. V. L. Solomon,” will be able to throw more light on the subject than I can as to the effect upon party contests of the proposed boundary between East Torrens and Port Adelaide. If we want to secure the proper representation of parties, and to prevent the congestion of electors of any one party in certain divisions, we should alter the mode of representation, not the scheme of distribution. The adoption of proportional representation would strike at the root of the objections of the honorable member for South Australia, Mr. Batchelor, and unless there is strong cause to the contrary shown, I think that we may adopt the proposed distribution as a fair and equitable one.
– Suppose the boundaries were so arranged as to keep out all the freetrade candidates, what then ?
– I do not know how such an arrangement could be made.
– Surely the Government would not appoint as Commissioners men who -would try to make such distributions !
– There is one strong objection to referring the present scheme of distribution back to the Commissioner, in that Mr. Boothby is unfortunately no longer with us. It will generally be admitted that he was a most competent man for dealing with this matter. I do not know who the Government intend to appoint in his place, but the”’ electoral officer of the State, though an able man, is quite new to the business.
- Mr. Schomburg lias been gazetted as the new Commissioner.
– I am very glad to hear it, because he was of great assistance to the late Commissioner. No distribution can be suggested to which objection cannot be taken, and I think that that now before us is a very fair one. During the 30 days that the proposal was exposed for public criticism no objection was sent in, and so far as I can ascertain, the distribution gives general satisfaction in South Australia. I agree with the suggestion of the honorable member for South Australia that some of the names Attached to the divisions should be altered. I think we should give recognition chiefly to names which are deserving from the point of view of local patriotism. Why Mr. Chamberlain’s name’ was chosen for one division I do not know ; but I think it an admirable suggestion of the honorable, member for Robertson that Mr. Boothby’s. name be substituted. There may, however, be some difficulty in altering the proposed, names, because under section 19 of the Act-, the maps which must be presented to Par- liament must show the names and boundariesof the proposed divisions. In my opinion, Parliament has no power to alter the-, names.
– I am advised thatthe names can be altered.
– I should be glad to hearwhat reasons the Minister can urge against-, what appears to be the express conditions, of the section -
The number of electors residing in each proposed division together with a map signed by him. showing the names and boundaries of- each proposed division.
We cannot alter the boundaries, and I seenothing in the text to show that we can alter the names.
– If the honorable and learned member will look at section 21 hewill find that both Houses have to approveof the proposed distribution.
– That is so, but the word “distribution “ covers both names and boundaries. This is merely a specification of the method of distribution. “Distribution”” is the generic term used to comprehendboth.
– But a name is not-, a distribution.
– ‘’ Distribution “ is used to cover both boundaries and names. I do-, not think that section 21 helps the honorable gentleman, because it says -
If both Houses of Parliament pass a resolution approving of any proposed distribution, theGovernorGeneral may, by proclamation, declare the names and boundaries o£ the divisions - not as fixed by the House, but as suggested by the Commissioner. I hope thata way will be found out of the difficulty, because personally I should like to see thenames altered.
– Surely the Governor-General cannot do anything in the way of alteringwhat is done under an Act of Parliament ?” The Executive cannot have power to override an Act of Parliament.
– Another consideration isthat I do not know why the Governmentshould propose a motion approving of thedistribution proposed for South Australia, when they intend to alter the division* proposed for the States ofVictoria and New South Wales.
– I must ask the honorable and learned member not to deal with that matter.
– I do not propose to deal with that matter now, but I say that it does not appear to me to be right that we should make fish of one and fowl of another. It is not right under an Act which contemplates uniformity, though it is not mandatory, to say that the divisions should be adopted as proposed for South Australia, and immediately afterwards to ask that those proposed for New South Wales and Victoria should be reviewed.I believe that most of the representatives of South Australia are willing to agree to the distribution proposed, but I hope honorable members will not allow the principle of uniformity, which is really the essence of all Federal legislation, to be immediately afterwards departed from.
– Even if it does not suit the people of Victoria? Is the question of uniformity of more importance than the will of the people ?
– I ask the honorable and learned member for South Australia not to refer to the divisions proposed for the other States.
– I find that I am trespassing upon the subject of those divisions, and I shall not deal with them further. I hope that the amendment will be rejected, and that the divisions proposed will be adopted.
– I suggest to the honorable member for South Australia, Mr. Batchelor, that he should withdraw his amendment. There is no time now to rectify any mistakes which may have been made if the divisions are sent back to South Australia for revision.
– Yes, there is.
– I think not. We shall be out of this place in 60 days, and there is therefore no time to do anything in the way of amending the proposed divisions. Although I do not agree with the democratic effect of the divisions proposed for South Australia, we should accept things as they are at present, and endeavour next year to so alter them as to make them more equitable and just on the basis of democracy. The divisions of Tasmania about to be proposed will be before the House soon, and while I do not agree with the way in which that State has been cut up, I am willing to accept the divisions proposed, because it is better and more in harmony with the spirit of the Constitution that we should do so. With regard to the objection raised to the names of “Flinders” and “Chamberlain,” I suggest to honorable members that those divisions should be called “ Washington,” “ Stonewall Jackson,” “ Jefferson,” or any of the old historical names such as “Abraham Lincoln” if they cannot find names of Australian citizens which will be suitable. We . might call a division “ Captain Cook,” and I should be perfectly willing to agree to that, as I do not desire to have any battles with our South Australian friends about the names. I hope the amendment will be withdrawn. I intend to vote for the motion.
– I am sure the honorable member for South Australia, Mr. Batchelor, has no idea in bringing forward his amendment of advancing any party view. I give the honorable member credit for being above anything of the kind. At the same time, I agree with the honorable member that the division proposed is not satisfactory. I think that the manner in which the State has been divided will be found unsatisfactory to both sides in politics. With respect to Goodwood being tacked on to Port Adelaide, I must admit that there is a good deal of force in the honorable members remarks, and that Goodwood ought to have been left in the district of East Torrens, to which it naturally belongs by its geographical position and community of interest.
– And on account of its municipality.
– I do not quite agree with the honorable member in another matter. I think that Brighton, Glenelg, and a portion of Sturt should have been left in the same district. If those two alterations were made I do not think there would be very much difference in voting power from a party Stand-point. I am sure that it cannot be satisfactory to the people of Glenelg that they should be tacked on to the electorate of Barker. It would be equally unsatisfactory to the people of Glenelg, and of a portion of Sturt, if they were tacked on to Port Adelaide, because they would be virtually disfranchised, their numbers not being nearly sufficient to produce any effect upon the enormous labour vote of Port Adelaide itself. We need not go into the question as to whether the division favours the .democratic or conservative vote, but I do not think that much difference is caused by cUtting off one slice of the electorate and putting on another. In my opinion the division proposed is not a satisfactory one, and I am, therefore, prepared to vote for the amendment. I indorse what was said a moment ago by the honorable and learned member for South Australia, Mr. Glynn. I should like to know why the proposed division of South Australia should be selected by the Government for approval, and at the same time it is suggested that’ the divisions proposed for the other States j-shall be disapproved of.
– I must ask the honorable member not to refer to those divisions.
– This question was referred to before, or I should not have alluded, to it. Though I do not believe any great amount of wrong has been done to either one side or the other in politics by the proposed division, I shall support the amendment disapproving of it. I should prefer to see the whole State polled as one division, as was the case before, than that there should be a division of districts which does not give satisfaction to all sections of the community.
Mr. REID (East Sydney). - I only wish to refer to a very small matter in connexion with the names of the proposed divisions. There is no doubt that it will be very awkward if we have two honorable members for Flinders in this House. At the same time, I do not think that any alteration could be made by the Governor-General in Council if we approved of the distribution without suggesting an alteration of the names. If we suggest an alteration of the names, I do not question the power of the Governor-General to give effect to our wishes.
– That is what we propose.
– I think it could be done in that way without any objection, but not otherwise.
Mr. KINGSTON (South Australia).With regard to the proposed distribution of the electorates, I can speak with freedom from personal interest, because I have not the slightest intention to submit myself to either of the districts which are affected.
– The right honorable gentleman has a much safer one.
– I do not know that ; but I confess that I have been very fairly treated in connexion with the polling throughout South Australia. I have great confidence in the judgment of the officer who was responsible for the subdivision. South Australia never had a better officer than the late Sheriff Boothby, and I venture to think that the benefits of the service which he has rendered in connexion with electoral matters have been by no means confined to South Australia, but have been shared by all Australia. Whilst approving generally of the divisions which he has recommended, I cannot help thinking, after listening to the remarks of the honorable member for South Australia, Mr. Batchelor, that he has made a mistake with regard to the inclusion of Glenelg in the district of Barker, and the exclusion of the district of Goodwood from Barker, and its inclusion in the district of Port Adelaide. I think that can hardly be justified. The position is this :. Glenelg is a fashionable watering - place, corresponding to a very great extent with similar watering-places to be found in the district of Port Adelaide, notably- the Semaphore, Henley Beach,- the Grange, and others, and it is much closer to them than is the district of Goodwood. The latter district may be described as the home chiefly of workers employed in the city, and is in no sense a fashionable neighbourhood. It was originally started by a building society, and has been extended from time to time. Goodwood and Glenelg have for years past been included in the same district, and I should have been glad to see them so included now. What has been done 1 Glenelg, which is, as I say, a fashionable watering-place, adjoining other places which are included in Port Adelaide, is not selected for inclusion in that electorate,, but is joined to the district of which Mount Gambier is the chief polling place, and which includes the greater part of the south-eastern district peopled by producers generally. Goodwood, on the other hand, which is farther away from Port Adelaide, has been included in that district. I cannot help thinking that a mistake has beenmade. Speaking about community of interests - I am not bothered particularly about the political views which are held by the* residents of different localities - a fashionable watering-place such as Glenelg should, if ifc could be conveniently done, be bracketed with similar places in the neighbourhood, and, undoubtedly,”these are to be found rather in the district of Port Adelaide than in that of Barker. I am glad to see that the result of the efforts of the late Sheriff Boothby are deemed to be more acceptable than those of the Commissioners in the other States, but after having listened to the remarks of other honorable members, and bringing my own knowledge to bear on the subject - Brighton, which is / in the neighbourhood of Glenelg, is the place where I reside - I think a mistake has been made, and, under all the circumstances, I think it my duty to vote with the majority of my colleagues from South Australia. I hope the House will be disposed to give effect to their view of the matter.
– I am quite willing to credit the honorable member for South Australia, Mr. Batchelor, with the best intentions in bringing this matter before the House. But, judging from an interjection he made, I am afraid that he is not quite so ready to give others similar credit.
– I apologize.
– The honorable member contended that an effort should be made to so divide the electorates that political parties might be fairly represented in each district. By interjection I asked the honorable member how we could discover the proportions of electors of different views in particular localities. In some districts in New South Wales these proportions are constantly varying, and I do not think that we could possibly enter into any such question. Minor matters, such as whether particular watering-places or particular ‘ townships should be included within an electoral district, would arise in connexion with every electorate in Australia. I could raise objections to the inclusion within my electorate of some places, and to the exclusion pf others ; but I think that we should proceed upon the broader line of considering whether the instructions given by us have been seriously departed from. Another point is that the recommendations of the Commissioner were submitted to the people of South Australia for 30 days, and no objection was raised. If any strong objection had been entertained to the proposed divisions, why were they not previously expressed ? Should we not act upon strong objections raised for good cause shown during the period allowed by law rather than upon objections put forward at a’ later stage, and unaccompanied by any suggestion as to how thea visions could be more satisfactorily made. Of course, it may be that there is some ground for the opinion that a particular portion of a district should not be included in an electorate. But 1 would point out that the inclusion or exclusion of any part of a district may affect the narrow margin which we have allowed in the Act.
– But how can we justify the picking out of a part of a district which is more remote, and the inclusion of it in an electorate?
– That course may be necessary for two reasons.
– The numbers are the same in each case.
– Is the honorable member quite sure of that ?
– The districts of Glenelg, Brighton, and Sturt comprise about the same number of electors.
– Even then it does not follow that by substituting one district for another the Commissioner would not disturb other electorates in an even more objectionable way. Further than that we have made provision for a community of interests.
– Bat not for a concentration of party interests.
– Certainly not. If, however, it does happen that there is a concentration of party interests that is not the fault of the person who made the subdivision. For example, it may be that one district is entirely composed of working men, and that the adjacent district comprises the same class of voters. If the electors in that case are included in one district there can be no charge of concentration against the person undertaking the subdivision of that district. I should think that the numbers affected in the districts to which reference has been made are not so serious as to justify a charge of’ concentration of particular interests.
– I made no charge.
– I have not asserted that the honorable member did. Nevertheless, a charge of that sort would have to be proved before we should be justified in saying that the subdivision effected was wrong upon those grounds. I am quite sure that in a great many electorates much more serious objections will be urged. I am inclined to fear that if we enter upon these minute details in the case of every electorate we shall undertake an almost hopeless task.
– Whilst sympathizing with much that has been said by the honorable member for South Australia, Mr. Batchelor, and the right honorable and learned member for South Australia, Mr. Kingston, I feel that I must support the Government in approving of the electoral divisions for that State. I take up this position because I am quite sure that the people of South Australia generally approve of the way in which that State has been subdivided. Up to the present time there has been no question raised as to the boundaries not being acceptable, with the exception of the boundary between the districts of Barker and East Torrens.
– Has the honorable member any ground for making that statement?
– Some time ago I was approached by Mr. Chinner, the Mayor of Unley, who forwarded me a resolution which was passed by a meeting held at Goodwood. That meeting expressed the opinion that the boundary between Torrens and Barker was not a satisfactory arrangement, but the meeting was held after the month had elapsed during which exception could be token to the electoral boundaries. I brought the matter before this House by means of a question, and ascertained that nothing could be done. In view of all the circumstances it seems to me that, as a representative of South Australia, I should not be justified in asking that these divisions should be rejected.
– As Iam fairly acquainted with the State of South Australia, I feel justified in offering a few remarks upon this question. . In. the first place the honorable member for South Australia, Mr. Batchelor, objects to the inclusion of Goodwood, in the district of Port Adelaide, on the ground that there is no community of interests between the two places. I contend that there is a community of interests in the case of Goodwood with the district of Port Adelaide, and also with that of East Torrens generally.
-Not so much as there is in its connexion with the rest of the municipality of Unley.
– The taking in of Unley would exceed the quota. Goodwood is populated by working men, and by many old residents, who made it a suburban retreat in the early days. Then, again, it is a centre in which a good many railway men reside. I think we may fairly assume that the community of interests is as strongly pronounced in the case of Goodwood as it is in that of Hindmarsh and Port Adelaide.
– But Unley is separated from Goodwood.
– That has been rendered necessary by reason of the quota. Regarding the question of gerrymandering, I would point out that if we included Unley we should probably have to take in Parkside. Otherwise we should certainly give rise to a suspicion of gerrymandering. The honorable member for Bland, who has no knowledge of the district whatever, suggests that a little gerrymandering has taken place. But I would point out to him that a certain portion of this district has been included in the new Federal electorate from a point on the old Bay-road. The part in. the angle, which is shown in the map, represents what is known as “The Old Black Forest,” and the population settled there is very sparse indeed.
– But the Electoral Commissioner in effecting this subdivision has crossed the Bay-road.
– No; only at the point I have indicated. I have the map before me, and I have travelled the road as a boy. The honorable member for Bland, who would like the district to be a perfect oblong, does not know the geography of “the place, otherwise he would be aware that there is a park round Adelaide.
– I have not yet spoken upon the question.
– I am referring to the interjections made by the honorable member. He has walked round the chamber with a map in his hand for the purpose of showing that gerrymandering has taken place. He wishes the new Federal electorate, to which reference has been made, to be a perfect oblong. But I would point out that there is no population settled in the park lands around Adelaide.
– In travelling from Goodwood to the Port one has to cross the Bayroad.
– It is necessary to take in the Bay- road for the purpose of arranging the quota. The honorable member for South Australia, Mr. Batchelor, has referred to the position of Glenelg, and he would be prepared to allow the Commissioner to make up the quota in the Port Adelaide division by taking in Brighton, which is 4 miles beyond Glenelg.
– It is a watering place.
– That is the argument put forward by the right honorable member for South Australia, Mr. Kingston. He has referred to various watering places, and it seems to me that the Port Adelaide division derives its name from the fact that several ports exist within its boundaries. Glenelg, however, is not a port.
– No one takes exception to the name, but-
– It is suggested that Glenelg should be included in the Port Adelaide division. As a matter of fact, there is no community of interest between the workers of Port Adelaide and the city men who reside at Glenelg and Brighton. Glenelg is a watering place, andits population consists largely of people following various callings in the city, while-
– What is the Semaphore?
– The population of the Semaphore consists chiefly of people working in and about Port Adelaide, and a small section of clerks and women who have business in Adelaide.
– And the Grange ?
– The Grange is a watering place.
– Has the honorable member any suggestion to make in regard to Henley Beach?
– Evidently the honorable member is not familiar with the district, or he would know that Henley Beach and the Grange are very close together. When the right honorable member for South Australia, Mr. Kingston, speaks of Glenelg as a watering place, he forgets that in the distribution made by the Commissioner it is classed with Port Victor-
– Which is 70 miles away from it.
– And Port Macdonnell
– Which is 300 miles away.
– Yes ; some of your districts must be large as your population is comparatively small. Glenelg is included with Brighton and is also classed with Kingston, a watering place named after the father of the right honorable member for South Australia.
– What isthe distance between Henley Beach and Glenelg?
– About 4 miles. The intervening area is but sparsely populated, and that is another reason why the suggestion made by the honorable member for South Australia, Mr. Batchelor, should not be carried out. It seems to me that he has not made out a good case. The right honorable member for South Australia, Mr. Kingston, made out a very bad case, indeed, for he endeavoured to convince the House that Goodwood is much further from Port Adelaide than is Glenelg. As a matter of fact they are equi-distant.
– According to the map they are equi-distant.
– But maps are notoriously inaccurate.
– If the honorable member for Bland were familiar with the lines upon which maps are drawn, he would have no difficulty in verifying my assertion. I am inclined to think that he is supporting the honorable member for South Australia, Mr. Batchelor, for some reason which he has not yet expressed. The reason underlying the arguments put forward in favour of the proposed alteration might be summed up in one sentence, and that sentence I shall leave the honorable member for Bland to express.
– If it be possible to alter the names of certain divisions without necessitating the return of the distribution to the Commissioner, I should like to move one or two amendments. I understand that there is some difficulty in the way which the Minister will, perhaps, explain. I desire, for example, that the Flinders division shall be named “Grey,” after Sir George Grey. As honorable members are aware, there is already a Federal electorate of “ Flinders” in Victoria.
– It would be better to deal with the electorates in their proper order.
– If any honorable member has a prior amendment to move, he should do so now.
– There is, for example, the Port Adelaide division. That is the name of a State electorate.
– I understand that nearly every other honorable member for South Australia has spoken on this question, and therefore cannot move any amendments in this direction. My difficulty is that I do not know the changes which some of them desire in the names of the various electorates.
– It is open to any honorable member to move an amendment on their behalf.
Amendments (by Mr. Harper) agreed to- . .
That the motion be amended by the omission of the words “Port Adelaide,” with a view to insert in lieu thereof the word “Hindmarsh “ ; and by the omission of the word “Chamberlain,” with a view to insert in. Heu thereof the word “ Wakefield.”
Amendment (by Mr. Deakin) agreed to-
That the motion be amended by the omission of the words “East Torrens,” with a view to the insertion of the word “ Boothby.”
Amendment (by Mr. Wilks) agreed to - -
That the motion be amended by the omission of the word “Flinders,” with a view to insert in lien thereof the word “Grey.”
Mr. KINGSTON (South Australia). - I wish to know if the Government are perfectly satisfied with this alteration of the names of divisions ? Are they of opinion that it is an approval within the terms of the Act when what is proposed by the Commissioner is not approved in its entirety by the House ? I have a strong notion, though I may be altogether wrong, that if both Houses of Parliament pass resolutions approving of any suggested distribution - which, undoubtedly, to my mind, includes the names as well as the boundaries contained in the Commissioner’s report and the attached maps signed by him - something may be done. But can it be said that both Houses have approved of a distribution if the House of Representatives’ rejects some of the names of the divisions recommended by the Commissioner, and substitutes othernames t
– There is no express authority for the alteration by this House of either names or boundaries ; but whereas an alteration of the boundaries of the division’s would be an alteration of substance, the alteration of names is not. In my opinion, the Act is not so severely worded as to prevent us from making immaterial alterations, and no court would say that the alteration of names is material.
Question, as amended, resolved in the affirmative.
That this House approves of the proposed distribution of the State of South Australia into seven Divisions, named Adelaide, Hindmarsh, Angas, .Barker, Wakefield, Boothby, and Grey, and shown on the maps laid upon the table of the House of Representatives on the 7th July’ last.
– I move -
That this House disapproves of the proposed distribution of the State of Victoria into 23 divisions, named Balaclava, Ballaarat, Bendigo, Bourke, Corangamite, Corinella; Coria, Flemington, Flinders, Gippsland, Grampians, Indi, Jika, Kooyong, Laanecoorie, Melbourne, Melbourne Ports, Mernda, Moira, Toorak, Wannon, Wimmera, Yarra, and shown on the mapa laid upon, the table of the House of Representatives on the 21st July last.
I have placed this motion second on the list because, as I have already explained, the proposed distribution of Victoria was. the second to be reported upon by the Commissioner. I ask the House to disapprove of the distribution for several reasons. One reason, to which I shall make further reference presently, is the prevalence of a series of disastrously dry seasons, which has driven the population of Victoria and other States towards the coast.
– Nevertheless there seems to be a very large allowance for country representation.
– I do not think the allowance is large. The population now residing on the eastern coast of Australia cannot be considered a normal population, and that fact will appear more clearly when I come to deal with the proposed distribution of New South Wales. The Commissioner in reporting upon the written objections to hisdistribution which have been received by him enumerated them in this way -
That the statistics as to the number of electors residing in the country are unreliable.
That owing to the drought numbers of electors, from country districts have moved, probably only temporarily, to the metropolitan centres.
That a very large proportion of the persons entitled, who have been accidentally omitted from’ the returns, are country residents, and that the number so omitted is almost great enough to form a quota for a division.
That the country has been unfairly treated, because the Commissioner has not taken sufficient advantage of the margin allowed above and below the quota.
That the proposed readjustment of boundaries is inequitable and unjust, inasmuch as the country districts will lose one representative, which must prove detrimental to rural industries and its legislative needs.
That community of interest has been ignored.
He practically ignored those objections, but every one who has lived in the country districts of Victoria knows that there is a great deal of truth in .the statement that there has been a very large exodus from the dry parts of the State to the coast, and if the proposed distribution were approved of by the House, we should find, twelve months hence, that we. had given a larger representation to the metropolitan districts than is given under the present arrangement.
– Not at all. There has’been no drought in Gippsland, and yet the proposed new electorate of Yarra will have twice as many electors as the proposed new electorate of Gippsland.
– I will presently tell honorable members the number of electors in each of the present divisions and in each of the proposed divisions, and they will then see that, with Wo exceptions, the difference in numbers is not very great. Under the circumstances to which I have referred, I think it would be better to make these divisions when conditions are normal and seasons are good.
– When will conditions be normal f
– When things are more settled.
– If the distribution suited the honorable member he would abide by it.
– We know that the right honorable member would not allow the New South Wales Commissioners to alter the boundaries of certain electorates which had grown inordinately.
– Neither would the honorable gentleman.
– I was- prevented by law from having any alteration made. Personally, I do not know how the proposed division, if adopted, would affect the representation of political parties, in
Victoria. . I think, however, that the representation of country districts should not be interfered with unless for very grave reasons. Moreover, I think the old boundaries should have been observed as closely as was reasonably possible. The electors in the existing divisions have been working together for three years, and it would be unwise to sever them in the future more than is absolutely necessary. The proposal in the Electoral Bill introduced by the Government was that the margin should be one-fourth,- but in Committee that was altered to one-fifth. If the original margin had been kept, a. great deal of difficulty would have been saved.
– The honorable gentleman accepted the amendment.
– Because I could not get anything better. I have always been opposed to giving to the electors in large centres of population the same representation as to those in the sparsely-populated country districts. Under the old division, Balaclava stands with 3,180 electors above the maximum, Bourke with 2,746, Kooyong with 6, 3S5, Melbourne Ports with 589, North Melbourne with 1,445, South Melbourne with 3,144, and Yarra with 4,832. The electorates which have electors below the quota are Echuca 807, Gippsland 820, Indi 1,971, Laanecoorie 731, Moira 305, and Wimmera 5,599. The Wimmera District includes the dry country to which I have just referred. Every week the people are leaving those districts, in which the numbers are at present above the maximum, ‘ to swell the population of those in which the numbers are at present below the maximum. This process is going on very rapidly, and I venture to predict that within two months time, or about the middle of summer, there will be scarcely onecountry district below the maximum.
– What about the Melbourne electorate 1
– The numbers in the Melbourne electorate are at present swollen by those who have come from the country.
– And yet it contains 1 2,000 fewer electors than does the district of Yarra.
– I do not pretend to know the circumstances of every particular electorate in Victoria.
– Can the Minister justify the difference ?
– I do not consider the difference very great as between large centres of population. I desire to show the proportion of electors in city electorates as compared with country electorates under the State system in Victoria. The electorate of Windermere contains 1,743 electors, Clunes and Allandale 1,744, Creswick 1,812, Talbot and Avoca 1,831, Norman by 1,935, Maldon 2,004, Eaglehawk 2,018, Daylesford 2,035, Dunolly 2,041, Horsham 2,056, Portland 2,081, Port Fairy 2,081. These electorates contain numbers all below the average. . Of the divisions with electors above the average, Donald and Swan Hill contains 6,175 electors, Essendon and Flemington 5,182, Eastern Suburbs 5,179, EastBourke Boroughs (two members), 10,159, Toorak 4,895, Melbourne 4,867, Gippsland West 4,574, Mornington 4,458, Hawthorn 4,371, Footscray4,304, Dandenong and Berwick, 4,179. Thus, in the State electorates, the proportion as between the city electorates and those in the country was more than two to one.
– One country electorate counted more than the largest city electorate.
– Yes, that was an exception. I believe that the district of Donald and Swan Hill is a very extensive one. I have quoted these figures to show honorable members the principle that was followed in the distribution of electorates for State purposes.
– Can the Minister tell us the number of male electors in the Wimmera district at present, as compared with the number at the last election?
– No, I cannot.
Mr.Wilks. - Has not the extension of the franchise to women caused all the trouble ?
– No ; the honorable member is quite mistaken. The great cause of the trouble has been the transfer of population from the country districts to the towns. Great numbers of people are now drifting from the cities back into the country, and I shall be able to give honorable members some information in regard to the trend of population back towards the western districts of New South Wales. In all parts of the world, except in New Sou th Wales, it is recognised that a distinction should be made between city and country electorates, so far as the number of electors entitled to return a member are concerned. In - many cases, two or three times as many electors are required in the centres of population as in the country. I once heard it said by the present AgentGeneral of New South Wales, that the city of Sydney would be better represented than the country districts of New South Wales, even if had no members, because Parliament was meeting in the city. In Great Britain, country members are returned by 2,500, 2,600, 2,700, 3,200 electors respectively, whereas in the centres of population 35,000,28,000, 24,000, 23,000, 22,000, and 20,000 electors respectively are required to return one member. In Germany, and I believe also in France and the United States, the same thing applies to a very large extent.
– But the Minister deliberately adopted a different principle in the Electoral Act.
– I did not act deliberately in the matter, because I was opposed to the principle. Even though there were a fewer number of electors in the country districts than in the towns - even though there were a fourth less - no harm could be done by adhering to the old divisions, and we should at least avoid the risk of inflicting an injury upon the country districts. It would be unwise to adopt the proposed distribution under a condition of affairs unparalleled in the history in Australia. I have known droughts before, but never one so extended, or which led to such large areas of country in the interior being absolutely deserted.
– The Minister did not say that when we desired to suspend the fodder duties.
– I do not see any connexion between the one thing and the other. I do not think there is any occasion to inform honorable members as to the number of electors in each of the divisions under the distribution rcommended by the Commissioner, because honorable members have a copy of his report, which deals very exhaustively with the whole question. I do not pretend to say that the divisions are not correct, but in some cases they certainly take a most extraordinary form, more so than any divisions I have ever seen. Although I believe the Commissioner is an honorable man, who may be thoroughly trusted, his subdivision seems to have been a most extraordinary one if judged from the map. The representatives of Victoria are better acquainted than I am with the effects of the division. I believe they will fully indorse everything I have said with regard to the exodus of people from one part of the State to another, and the necessity of giving the opportunity to people to return to thedrought afflicted districts before the boundaries of the districts are permanently altered.’ I think that an alteration at the present time would prove very detrimental to the best interests of the State. If we adhere to the present proposed distribution, we may deprive the country districts of a member to which they would still have been entitled but for the drought, and give the city electorates an undue advantage. I remember that, on one occasion in New South Wales when we altered the electoral law, we reduced the number of members by sixteen, of whom fourteen were taken from the country electorates on account of the requirement that the representation of country and city electorates should be upon the samebasis so far as the number of electors was concerned. This alteration struck a most disastrous blow, under which New South Wales has been staggering ever since, andI hope that no such course will be adopted in the present instance.
– The carrying of this resolution will not mean that the Government intend to refer the divisions back to the Commissioner ?
– I rise to support the motion, and I may say at once that, so far as I am personally concerned, the proposed divisions would suit me remarkably well. They would leave me all my present electors, and the territory which it is proposed to add to my electorate happens to include the district where I went to school, and where . I have a large number of friends. Therefore, from my own personal stand-point, I could not find any fault with the proposed distribution. But I think it is our duty to view this matter from a broader stand-point than that of our personal interest or convenience. I thoroughly agree with what the Minister for Trade and Customs has said in regard to the effect of the recent drought. When the question of the apportionment of electors, as between town and country, was under consideration, I did all that I possibly could to secure a margin of one-fourth, either above or below. But, having been defeated upon that question, I do not desire to raise it again. We have a certain law upon the statute-book, and I have no wish to dis regard its provisions. At the same time I think all fair-minded persons will admit that we ought net to take advantage of a time when the country districts are partially denuded of population, as the result ofone of the most disastrous droughts ever experienced in Australia, to deprive those districts of their fair share of political representation. I am sure that our city friends would be the last to take advantage of any temporary displacement of population for that purpose. When the present division of electorates in this State was submitted to the Victorian Parliament by myself, the present Treasurer, although he is a city member, moved that it be disagreed with upon the ground that it gave too much representation to the city. In common fairness, I had to admit that it did. The reason which he assigned for his objection was that a majority of the members composing the Government, of which I was the head, were country representatives, and were afraid of being accused of unduly favouring rural constituencies. A considerable majority of the Victorian Assembly supported the amendment to deprive the city of a member, and to add that measure of representation to the country. But it was found that if that course were adopted, the balance of representation would be rather the other way. The House, therefore, accepted the subdivision as originally proposed, although a majority of honorable members considered that the city had been somewhat unduly favoured. We can well imaginewhat would be the effect of depriving the country districts of still another representative, and of giving that measure of increased representation to the city. I have no desire to raise the question of town versus country. Their interests should be identical; but the knowledge and experience of their residents are not identical. The city man is conversant with city interests and the country resident with country interests. Let me refer to the proposed boundaries of the electorate which I represent, as they are shown upon the map. Honorable members will be able to judge of its size when I tell them that it includes the north-eastern angle of the State and also its extreme southern points
It embraces an area which extends from Cape Howe to Wilson’s Promontory. They will also appreciate its diversity of interests, seeing that some portions of it comprise large mining districts and other portions dairying and grazing districts. These considerations are somewhat beside, the question, because we are not now discussing what should be the proportion of representation as between town and country. What I wish to emphasize is that we should take no advantage of a temporary displacement of population - because we have every reason to believe that it is temporary - to deprive the country districts of a member, and to give an additional member to city constituencies. I admit that the district represented by tha honorable member for Yarra is densely populated ; but I would point out that he can mount his bicycle and visit all his electors in the course of a day. Their interests are identical.
– The Melbourne electorate contains 12,000 less voters than does my own.
– The total number of electors in the metropolitan districts is quite as’ large as it should be, apart from the temporary exodus of population from the country to the city. Although the electorate which the honorable member represents is densely populated, the district of Melbourne - the city constituency of Victoria - possesses only a small population. The metropolitan districts, therefore, speaking of them as a whole, possess their full share of representation. Their interests cannot suffer. But the interests of the country will suffer greatly if we deprive it of a member on account of a temporary exodus of population, because a long time might elapse before the representation which it loses would be restored to it. I merely desire to do what is fair. If I were studying my own personal interests, I could not wish to contest any district better than that which the Commissioner has recommended, because the electors of it from end to end are friendly disposed towards me. I hope, however, that upon a large matter of this kind, and one which affects the interests of the whole people, we shall rise superior to selfish considerations. It has been said, “ Why should we approve of the South Australian divisions, and disapprove of the Victorian ? “ The cases are not at all analogous. Hitherto South Australia has not been divided into Federal electorates for the ‘ return of representatives to this House. On the other hand, Victoria has been divided - and fairly divided - if we leave oat of consideration the temporary displacement of population that has taken place. It is not necessary for me to labour this matter further. I have no desire to refer to boundaries. I rely upon the innate sense of justice of honorable members. I ask them to do what is right upon the broad principle at issue, which in itself is sufficient to justify the motion for the rejection of these divisions.
– Upon several occasions during the history of this Parliament, honorable members upon this side of the Chamber have sunk party feelings and interests. We did so upon the question of the Naval Agreement, and I suppose that if there ever was a matter from the consideration of which party feeling should be eliminated, it is one of this sort, which is infinitely more vital, and which touches much more closely the political morality as well as the political justice of this Parliament. I hope, therefore, that in dealing with it we shall endeavour to absolutely eliminate from our treatment of it any element of party attack or party recrimination. The subject is altogether above any indulgence in tactics of the kind, and I trust that any remarks which I may make will not be disfigured by the introduction of false issues. I shall even abstain - tempted though I am - from making any references to the appeal which honorable members upon this side of the House made on- behalf of the country during the continuance of the disastrous drought which Australia has recently experienced. That would introduce a discordant note, and we shall have other opportunities for dealing with those matters. At the present moment, we are dealing with a” most vital question, and one which, I suppose, involves our duty, to the people of Australia more closely than does any question which has been dealt with by this Parliament. The honorable member for Gippsland very correctly stated that on this occasion we cannot endeavour to alter the laws of the country in reference to the suffrage. He very fairly made that admission. What is the law of this country in reference to the suffrage 1 What is the plank, which is not only a vital plank in the platform of the labour party, but in that; of every party throughout the State 1 It is that as nearly as possible each individual shall have an equal share in the political Government of the Commonwealth - -not because he lives in one part of a State or in another part, and not because he is conversant with country affairs or with city affairs. If we enter into those refinements, we shall stab to the very heart the principle of manhood or womanhood suffrage. That was the old tory basis ofopposition to manhood suffrage. The argument was - “ How can these ignorant people, who have no stake in the country, possess sufficient knowledge or discrimination to choose Members of Parliament”? Upon this occasion, however, that sort of discrimination between one man in the city and another man in the country is being resurrected. What, I would ask, is the position of the man who is resident half-way between the town and the country, and who does not belong to either? I suppose that he represents another shade of entity, to which we should attach some further consideration.
– I thought that the right honorable and learned member agreed that we should allow the law to remain as it stands.
Mr.REID. - The present law is that, as closely as possible, each man shall have an equal share in returning members to this Parliament, and that each woman shall exercise a similar right, al though one woman may have the genius of the Minister for Trade and Customs, and another be absolutely unversed in political affairs. We have deliberately based our suffrage upon the prin ciple of humanity. We have designedly discarded all suggestions in favour of any other basis. Now, what does this proposal mean ? It means - and I am speaking very earnestly upon this matter, because I feel strongly upon it, though I have no desire to use exaggerated language - that whilst the broad basic principle of our Constitution is the equality of every man and every woman as a voting power in the political arena, the basis of the action of the Government is to deny that principle, and to establish a difference between various persons in the Commonwealth, according to the localities in which they reside. That is absolutely at variance with the basic principle of representation in this Parliament, and I take the earliest opportunity of inviting the attention of honorable members to the manner in which it will work out. The Minister for Trade and
Customs has deliberately told us what the Ministerial proposal means. It does not mean that the Government propose to return the distribution to this highly trusted officer. Do not let us forget that the selection of the Commissioner by the Government was, we supposed - and we stillhave a right to believe - a proper one. We have a light to believe that a competent man was chosen to do the work. On the statement of the Minister, however, the Government did not choose the right man, or, at all events, if they did, his work is such that they cannot accept it.
– We cannot accept it, not because of the man, but because of the season.
Mr.REID. - We are to adjust political power and rights and to arrange the distribution of electors of Australia according to season. When we have a good season we are to hoye a redistribution. We are to have a series of political adjustments for a time of drought, and another series of political adjustments for a time of goodseasons. If that be so, we should have a special redistribution for Melbourne Cup week, because on that occasion there is an absolute displacement of the population. Do not honorable members see that the necessity for giving every fair consideration to the difficulty which we all admit that people living in country districts experience in exercising the franchise as freely and conveniently as do the residents of large centres of population is provided for in the elastic margin which enables the Commissioner to make a difference of 10,000 in the number of voters in town and country electorates ? The law of the land has given those who redistribute our electoral boundaries a right to disregard the principles of manhood and womanhood suffrage to an extent which, in this particular case, enables the Commissioner in framing a division to go 5,000 below or 5,000 above the quota. He has power to deal with all the difficult positions which may be worthy of consideration. The margin which he is allowed is so great, for instance, that in a city division, the number of electors returning one member may happen to be 10,000 more than the number returning a member to represent a country constituency. Surely that provision shouldbe sufficient to meet allthese emergencies ? Do honorable members desire any more serious departure from the principle of equality than the power vested in the Commissioner to make a difference of 10,000 votes between a city and a country electorate ? If that power does not satisfy honorable members, we had better abolish altogether the principle of manhood and womanhood suffrage. Is it not remarkable that, judging by his speech, the Minister appears to be oblivious of .the fact that, since the last general elections, the women of Victoria have been granted the franchise? Judging by his speech he is oblivious of the fact that by one stroke of our legislation we have added to the electoral rolls of Victoria a larger number of persons - in the shape of the women of the State - than previously existed upon the roll of male electors. Is is not marvellous that in dealing with the position’ created by what most of us consider to be a grand new departure, which has converted the number of electors of Victoria from 300,000 to 600,000, the Minister has not made any reference whatever to that revolution of the political system of the State ? I have before me the figures published ‘in part of the Statistical Register qf Victoria for 1901 showing the number of men and women over the age of 21 years then residing in this State. The return shows that whereas there were at that time 307,000 males above the age of 21 years in Victoria, there were 317,000 females above that age. Therefore, the electors of Victoria in point of voting power - which is supposed to be equal, so far as individuals are concerned - have been raised, by one stroke of policy, from 300,000 to 600,000. But not one word has fallen from the Minister in regard to the way in which that change affects his scheme, or how it works out. The- Minister may have thought fit to refer very briefly to this matter, but we must very seriously consider it. The honorable member for Gippsland, and trie Minister for Trade and Customs do not wish to raise the question of town and country. They do not desire to do so, because they wish to submerge the towns. It is easy to fracture the main principle of the Constitution in the interests, as it is thought, of certain persons in one part of the State and then to say, “ Oh, do not let us raise this question of town and ‘country.” The question is raised by those who seek to depart from the general principle of the Constitution, by making a difference between the voter who lives in a town and the voter who resides in a country district. They are the people who raise this question. The broad catholic basis of our suffrage does, not regard the status of men or women in the world. It pays no regard to what their wealth or their poverty may be, or to whatmay be the extent of their education. All these things have been brushed aside in order that every human being above, the age of 21 shall have the same right that the biggest and best man has, so far as the ballot-box is -concerned. That question hasbeen settled long ago. If the Minister could have discovered any injustice, or any invasion of the principles of the Constitution in this distribution, it would be a wholly different’ matter. But what is the principle ? The Minister says that he basal ways held the opinion that the votingpower in the hands of the people” in thecountry districts should be one - fourth greater than that of- the city electors. In other words there is to be 25 per cent., more voting power in the country electorates, than there is in the city divisions. We arelegislating in a number of democratic directions which some people consider to be daring experiments, but I think that the mostaudacious experiment of all would be tosolemnly confer political rights upon individuals, and then by side methods to deprivethem of those rights. In such circumstances, what is the use of standing up and pointingto Australia, as our great men do, as the one place in the British Empire where theequality of the manhood and womanhood of the country has been fearlessly affirmed.. If that is the principle of our Constitution, there is a personal right, possessed by every man and woman in Australia. It is his right, and her right, under our Constitution. .We talk of establishing a High. Court* and of appointing a High Commissioner, but is it not of infinitely greater importance that we shall not deprive the people of their politicalrights ? Is it not of supreme importancethat we should not revert under cover of a wretched question of this kind to the old tory distinctions of bygone times?’ I wish to point out that in my judgment the Commissioner has already gonetoo far in discriminating between the voterin the country district and the- voter in the town. In support of that view, I shall read certain figures which areembodied in his report. What do they show ? They show that the Commissioner- in planning out and distributing the voting power as between town and country, has gone so far in the direction desired by the honorable member for Gippsland that he has given the country districts an advantage of 48,000 votes. I shall give honorable members the exact figures which appear in the report. The nine city electorates have 24,210 electors above the quota while the fourteen country electorates have 24,612 votes below the quota. Adding the two together we find that there is a difference of ‘almost 49,000 votes in favour of the country electorates. If we divide that number by fourteen - the number of .country electorates - we get on the average a difference of over 3,000 votes in favour of each country electorate as against the city electorates of Victoria. How far are we going to push this departure from the principle of manhood suffrage ? If there are to be 3,000 more votes in every country electorate than there are in every city electorate, why should we not make the difference 6,000 ? On what principle can we proceed the moment we depart from the broad principle of the Constitution? One would have thought that the Commissioner had mapped out the electorates upon the mere basis of equality, and, obtaining a uniform quota, had acted accordingly. But he has gone so far in the direction of conserving the interests of the country that he has ^adopted two different quotas. In dealing with the city electorates he has proceeded on a quota” different from that adopted by him in mapping out the country electorates. He says in his report that -
The number of electors in the proposed fourteen (14) country and nine (9) city divisions is, therefore, 332,395 and 253,709 respectively, the average number of electors in each country division (including Ballarat, Bendigo, and Corio), being 23,742, and in each city division 28,190.
He has, therefore, separated town and country, the quota for the country being 23,742 for each electorate, as against the quota of 28,190 for each city division. Surely that should meet the desire for elasticity? Surely that concession to the more difficult position of voters in country districts is fair enough ? I come now to the inclusion of the females of Victoria on the rolls. These 300,000 women, each of whom now has the same right as has every man in this country to vote upon the basis of equality, should surely receive some consideration ? What a farce it is to carry broad principles, and to fail tr act up to them on vital occasions. Be as unequal as you like in matters outside the ballot-box, but if we do not act according to our broad principles, when we touch the ballot-box of Australia the -whole Constitution is a sham. There is surely one occasion on which we can recognise the majesty of the principle on which our Constitution is based ? We are supposed to represent the people. It is that which causes our sanctity and our vitality. How often have the people a chance of exercising an influence over the political destinies of the Commonwealth ? They can do so only once in three years. Where 1 At the ballot-box. That is the one occasion when people who have political rights have an opportunity of exercising them, and surely in regard to that one occasion we are going to be true to this principle. As I have previously remarked, a very large margin has already been allowed in favour of the country divisions. I am not proposing to quarrel with that. I do. not think that it is right, but I feel the importance of placing these electorates upon a proper foundation. The Minister for Trade and Customs, however, says that it is not proposed to have anything done to improve the Commissioner’s distribution. By the Electoral Act it is provided that if either House of Parliament passes a resolution disapproving of any proposed distribution, or negatives a motion for the approval of it, the Minister may direct the Commissioner to propose a fresh distribution of the State into divisions. That provides a constitutional procedure where Parliament is dissatisfied with the work of a Commissioner. The Minister, however, does not propose to put that section of the Act into operation, although it is only a few months since we passed it.
– It does not suit him to do so.
– I wish to avoid personal remarks so far as I can in dealing with this matter. I merely point out that the Act which we have passed provides a proper constitutional method to be followed if this House disapproves of a proposed distribution. Surely we do not believe in the personal interference of honorable members ?
– The Minister says that he does.
– Surely we do not take the attitude, when some part of a complex scheme of distribution is objectionable, that the power of amendment should be transferred from the non-political to the political hand ?
– Does the right honorable member suggest that that has been done ? He cannot point to a single instance in which members have interfered.
– I am not saying that any interference has taken place. I say that surely it will not be done.
-What is that but an insinuation?
– If the honorable member had allowed me to continue, he would have seen that I do not intend to make any insinuation. I assent to thatproposition. Honorable members are becoming hypercritical, if they are ready to place a malicious construction upon such an expression.
-i am glad to hear from the right honorable member that there is to be no talk about gerrymandering.
– There may be well-founded objections to a proposed distribution : surely that phrase will not be regarded as imputing political impropriety ? Some honorable members who do not know me so well as do the representatives of New South Wales are rather ungenerous at times. I do not like to be accused of attributing motives when I am not doing so, and it is mean and contemptible to try to place me in a false position. I assume that no one wishesfor the personal interference of politicians in the administration of the Electoral Act. There may be well-founded objections to a particular scheme of distribution, but it must always be considered by Parliament whether those objections are so weighty, and sufficiently affect the merits of the scheme, as to j ustify our disapproval of it. If the proposed distribution now before us is objectionable, why should it not be referred to the Commissioner? What a humiliation it will be if we have to submit ourselves for re-election under the scheme of electorates provided by the States Parliaments three years ago !
Mr.F. E. McLean. - When another franchise existed.
– Yes. The provision made by the Parliaments of the States were made before the Commonwealth Parliament had come into existence. Now, too, hundreds of thousands of women have been given the franchise. Will it not therefore be a most humiliating confession of legislative and executive incapacity if we admit that we cannot carry out a scheme of our own for the exercise of the political power of the Commonwealth, and must fall back on the States schemes. I have very serious doubt, indeed, whether, if a scheme of distribution is not adopted, we can fall back on the divisions provided by the Parliaments of the States, and I remind honorable members that these legal points, although they may not recommend themselves to the consideration of the House, sometimes prove perfectly good before a court of law. It is, therefore, a matter for serious consideration whether we can, as proposed by the Minister for Trade and Customs, allow things to drift, and hold the next elections under the laws of the States.
– The next elections will be conducted under our own Electoral Act.
– There is no provision for the conduct of elections in any State under that Act until a scheme of distribution has been submitted by the Commissioner, and approved by both Houses of Parl iament. My remarks would be very mild indeed if the Government proposed to refer this distribution to the Commissioner for a further report. But the Minister distinctly stated, in reply to a question put by me, that there was no intention of doing that. We might have provided, when dealing with the Electoral Bill, that Parliament should have the right to amend any proposed distribution, but it was distinctly, and I think wisely, determined that, whilst we reserved to ourselves the right to disapprove of any proposed scheme, we would repudiate the idea of interfering in the arrangement of the boundaries of electoral divisions. Therefore the Government have no power to deal with this matter, except by referring it to the Commissioner. There are some who think that if suggested distributions are not approved by Parliament, the State Acts passed prior to federation will come into force. But it is worth while to note the provisions of the Constitution on that point. If’ the State Acts will not come into force, the States - and the alternative is one to which personally I do not object - must vote as single electorates. But such an arrangement would do more to deprive the electors in country districts of representation than is done by the proposed scheme of distribution, which, as I have pointed out, gives the country electorates the benefit of a larger representation, to the extent of 50,000 votes, than is given to the metropolitan electorates. Section 29 of the Constitution provides that -
Until the Parliament of the Commonwealth otherwise provides, the Parliament of any State may make laws for determining the divisions in each State for which members of the House of Representatives may be chosen, and the number to be chosen for each division. .
It was necessary to pass that provision to make arrangements for the first election of members to serve in the Parliament of the Commonwealth. But now that we have passed an Electoral Act, and laid down a certain procedure defining the boundaries of divisions, the question arises whether the States Acts still hold good. The section continues -
In the absence of other provision, each State shall be one electorate.
It was clearly intended that, until other provision was made by the Parliament of the Commonwealth, the laws of the States Parliaments should remain in force, but, as we. have now passed an Electoral Act which provides that the boundaries of divisions shall be arrived at in a certain way, it is worthy of consideration whether the State Acts continued to be valid. That is a very serious matter, of course, but it seems to me that the main point is that the very principle upon which our Constitution is founded is intended to be attacked and negatived, because there is some objection to the proposed divisions. What is the only objection urged by the Minister against the report ? It is that he believes that the people in the country should have a greater voting strength than the people in the towns, man for man.
– The honorable and learned member is deliberately misstating the case.
– The Minister has been so busy taking up his new duties, that he will not allow me to finish. I was about to say that the honorable Minister also said that there had been a great rash of people from the country districts into the towns. If that is so, it is a wonder that we do not see them about. The streets of Melbourne would be all the better for a few thousand strangers will king about. I defy the oldest inhabitant of Melbourne to find many of these strangers here at the present time. You cannot have many people coming to Melbourne nowadays without some one noticing it. Where is the slightest trace of a single basis for the Minister’s statement. We hear of people clearing out of Australia altogether. Some people may have gone to Ballarat and to other towns, but that kind of thing is happening at all times. If the new policy of the Government caused a great demand for artisans, that would, to some extent, cause the shifting of the population from the country to the towns, but if that took placewould it be proposed to disfranchise the men who went into the factories? That would be a new method of conducting the political affairs of the country. We know that the difference of 48,000, which the Commissioner makes in favour of the country electors, must cover any tendency of the kind mentioned. I admit that the representatives of Victoria must know a great deal more than we do about this matter, but I think that it will be difficult toshow that the allowance made by the Commissioner of -almost 50,000 against the city in favour of the country would not cover any exodus of people to Melbourne, or tothe country towns of Victoria. I should like some definite proof of this enormous transfer of population. In view of the objection raised, it becomes a very serious matter to notice that this distribution involves giving one seat more to the city electorates. I understand that there is achange to that extent. Whereas formerly there were nine town and fifteen country electorates, the proportion would, under the new subdivision, be nine to fourteen. Surely, if the presence of human beings qualified to vote in a given area is proved, you cannot deprive them of their votes because they do not live in the country. The drought has been going on for a very long time, and if these people, who are supposed to have left the country, were living in the towns, they would have been placed upon the roll. The Act provides that a man can be transferred after living in any division for” one month, so that these people would have been placed on some roll if they wereliving in Melbourne or Ballarat. Now, let us look at the effect of the introduction of the female franchise. The difference which I have mentioned of nearly 50,000 votes against the city is on the basis of the female and malefranchise. I have a return here showing how the women above the age of 21 arelocated, and there is such a marvellous difference between the number of women in certain parts of Victoria and those in other parts that, since they have not been taken into account at all, there would be a wholesale disfranchisement of the females of Victoria. I have taken the five most populous city electorates and the five least populous electorates, in reference to women in the country. And here is the discrepancy : In the five city electorates there are 54,000 more women qualified to vote than in the five country electorates. Are these to be calculated in addition to the 50,000 electors allowed by the Commissioner ; are these 54,000 women to be forgotten? The Commissioner has included women voters inhis total, and upon his subdivision there is a difference of nearly 50,000 voters in favour of the country and against the town. But if his proposals are disapproved the whole of that will go by the board, and we shall have the original difference, which, according to the figures for the last election, was again thousands and thousands in favour of the country. But, owing to the introduction of the female franchise, we have a discrepancy like this aggregating the original discrepancy : In the five most populous city electorates there were, according to the census of March, 1901, 101,000 women above the age of 21.We hope that the forthcoming election will take place at the end of this year, so that nearly two years will have elapsed since the census, during which the young women will have been growing up and becoming entitled to the vote. Girls of nineteen, when this return was made up, would be entitled to vote at the next election.
– The popular tradition was that men grew older and women did not. But the right honorable and learned gentleman is putting it the other way.
– The women do not mind the younger age imputed to them, but they do not care to be altogether ignored. At any rate, we have imposed a duty upon them by our legislation, and it was intended when the vote was given that they should have an opportunity of exercising it. It would have been a mere mockery otherwise. At the time the last census was taken there were 101,000 women above the age of 21, and entitled to vote in the five most populous city districts, whereas in the five least populous country districts in respect to females the total number of women above the age of 21 and entitled to the vote, was 47,000. That is a difference of 54,000. Are these women also to be disfranchised in addition to the 40,000 or 50,000 men already given to the country; are these 54,000 women to be added to the discrepancy? I could understand it if we were going backuponall the planksof our platform. I should like to know what the labour party think of this. I understand that they have a plank which solemnly emphasizes the right of every man or woman to vote, whether he or she lives in Collins-street or Gippsland.
– One vote one value.
– I do not know that that is the plank.
– I think so.
– My friend, the Minister, seems to think that the members of the labour party are asleep on this point. We shall see how far they can afford to sleep upon this issue - how far men who solemnly pledge themselves that all men and women shall have an equal share in the government of the country will be prepared to support a proposition that a woman living in the country shall have an opportunity of exercising a vote, whereas if she lives in the electorate represented by Mr. Tudor she shall not have the privilege of voting for that honorable member. The principle I have referred to is not peculiar to the platform of the labour party, but it is embodied in the Statute law of the Commonwealth. We may strain at a gnat or two in order to prevent an extensive disturbance of the political situation, but there is always a point at which for some men the straining point becomes the breaking point. I am not oblivious of the fact that if I had not happened to be here I could not have wished for a better electioneering cry - if I were anxious for such a thing - than would be afforded if this proposal were carried. I could not have a more legitimate - I do not mean a cry for party purposes - but a more legitimate ground of complaint against the majority of the members of this House and the Government than if they threw this principle to the winds. It is of no use to give the electors platitudes ; they want to exercise their votes. It is of no use to say that the manhood and womanhood of Australia are enfranchised, if 40,000 electors in the city return one member, and 20,000 electors in the country also return one member. The figures which I have had to take from the State records show that in the electorate of Kooyong in 1901 there were 21,000 odd females over the age of 21 and entitled to the vote, whereas in the Wimmera at that time there were only 7,000 women of the voting age. What man who honestly wishes to carry out the basic principle of the Constitution can say that the 7,000 women in the Wimmera should have political opportunities equal to those enjoyed by 21,000 in another electorate ?
– But where are the 14,000?
– They are nowhere, because they do not exist.
– Are they not returning to the Wimmera ?
– Does the honorable and learned membersuppose that at any time there were 21,000 women of the voting age in the Wimmera district ?
– I believe that a good many of that 14,000 have already gone back.
– But I am speaking of 1901 - before the drought
– Oh no, the drought was felt in 1901.
– “The drought” is proving to be a better term than “ Mesopotamia.” It would appear that all the people who are not suffering from drought are not to have a vote, whereas all those who are suffering from drought are to have arrangements made so that they shall not only enjoy a vote, but shall have a larger voting power than those who are living in the city. That is a singular method of statemenship to adopt in settling the political rights of the people of Australia.
– I am not interested in the matter, except that I wish to be fair.
– May I suggest to the honorable and learned member that we all want to be fair, but that some of us have to regard the principles of the Constitution. The Commonwealth Constitution does not say that the honorable member for Corio, or the honorable member for East Sydney, shall have the right to arrange things, so that they shall do what they think is fair. The Constitution does not talk in that way. It does not give us that power, but it gives the people the right to vote. It does not give us the old political power to so make our arrangements that thousands of electors shall not have the right to vote.
– It gives Parliament the right to do what is fair.
– And to deprive any one of an equal share of political power ?
– That would not be fair.
– The difference between our platitudes upon the platform and the way in which we talk in this House is truly astonishing.
– There I agree with the right honorable member.
– No man knows it better than I do. I have specially come to Melbourne on this occasion, because it is one which is altogether too important to warrant me in leaving Ministers in the dark as to my attitude, and afterwards criticising their actions. I wished to be here before this proposal was carried, and, to avoid the possessionof the battle cry towhich I have referred, I am arguing now, not that I may have an opportunity of ventilating these ideas upon the hustings, but that there may be a settlement of this question which will prevent me from having that opportunity. I am prepared to take the full responsibility of my action. There is. a difference here which invades the principle of equality. If we do not accept the subdivision which is recommended, with all its faults, we shall be humiliated by being forced to accept the electorates defined by the States Parliaments three years ago under a different franchise. Honorable members talk about the fluctuation of population owing to the drought, and yet they are willing to disregard the ordinary movements of population within the past three or four years.. When were these boundaries defined? In 1900. This Commonwealth is now almost three years old. It includes hundreds of thousandsof personswhose names were never upon any electoral roll outside of South Australia. These marvellous changes have taken place. Yet they are not regarded. No ; but the possibility that some unfortunate people in the drought-stricken areas have come to the city is the cry which is raised. Surely the fact that they have a city to which they can come ought not to deprive the residents of the metropolitan districts of their political rights ? If the Minister will not agree to send these proposals back to the Commissioner, and, personally, I do not think there is sufficient reason to justify us in adopting that course, because 30 days have been allowed during which objections could be taken-
– The Commissioner says that the drought conditions were no concern of his.
– Even supposing that he did. What then? I have been pointing out that there is a difference in the quota between town and country which represents 50,000 votes, and I submit that that is where we ought to make these’ legitimate differences, and that they have already been made in the quota. The Electoral Commissioner, I assume, is a competent man, because he was appointed by the present Government. He had these matters before him, because, upon page 4, under the heading of “ Objections to distribution,” he points out the following objections, , which were received by him in writing : -
Red notion of the number of country districts to fourteen, on the following grounds - (as) That the statistics as to the number of electors residing in the country are unreliable.
We should never arrive at finality in regard to the boundaries for the new electorates if we proceeded upon that basis. Another objection is -
That, owing to the drought, numbers of electors from country districts have moved - probably only temporarily- to metropolitan centres.
I hold1 that it is impossible to have an incursion of 4,000 people into Melbourne without every person in the city being aware of it. Why, 4,000 new faces would create a sensation. Certainly we should hear something about the rents going up.
– The rents are going up in my district.
– It is a good sign in a city when that is so. I am satisfied that if a thousand electors moved into my honorable friend’s constituency he would know all about them. No man representing an electorate could help becoming seized of a fact of that sort. There is absolutely no proof that there has been this remarkable exodus from the country districts to the metropolitan area. This generality, which satisfies the honorable member for Gippsland upon the present occasion, would not satisfy him when the fiscal question was being discussed.
– The right honorable member himself spoke very differently upon the fodder duties. He spoke then of -the terrible distress of these people. He denies it now.
– I do not. My point then was that these people were suffering - that they were out in the country fighting dreadful difficulties - not that they had come into the sphere of theatres, trams, and public baths.
– The right honorable i member does not admit that disaster will drive away population.
– I do, but I hold that when population is driven away from one locality we are able to trace it. May I suggest to my honorable friend that all ‘ these statements about the removal of population will attend every proposal for dividing the population for electoral purposes to the end of the world. When the cry of the drought is not raised something else will be. I have never yet seen a scheme of electoral boundaries which did not meet with disapproval. The question involved here is whether we shall practically take the political power out of our own hands and return it to the State Parliament of three years ago. Is the redistribution scheme which is recommended so bad that we must humiliate ourselves before the electors by admitting that we have not been able to carry out the provisions of our own Act, which gives us power to refer the scheme back to a non-political authority should it not meet with our approval 1 The Act says -
If either House of Parliament passes a resolution disapproving of any proposed distribution, or negatives a motion for the approval of any proposed distribution, the Minister may direct the Commissioner to propose a fresh distribution of the State into divisions,
If the Minister in charge of this matter, being dissatisfied with the proposed boundaries, carried out the provisions of our own law and asked the House to send them ‘ back to the Commissioner with an instruction to make a larger difference between people living in one part of Victoria and those resident in another, would they take the responsibility of a straight vote upon that question ? That would raise a clear issue before the people of Australia. Here is a margin of 50,000 in the people of one State,’ and honorable members who fought for equality of representation wish to increase it to 100,000. I should like to know the honorable member who is prepared to place himself in that position. It is in our actions that we have to give effect to great principles. We do not discharge our duty when we place a law upon the statute-book. We do not discharge our obligation to the people when, having given them a vote, we do something to deprive them of.it. Let honorable members make distinctions if they choose ; let them say in their electoral law - “ There shall be a distinction between the value of a country vote and that of a town vote,” but do not let us make a farce of the most vital principle of the Constitution. Do not let us profess to give votes to every man and woman in Australia, whilst simultaneously we erect political fences so that the men and women in one part of the Commonwealth cannot have an equal chance with those of another part in returning a representative to this Parliament. This is a vital matter. The only way in which the voters can exercise a voice in the. government of the country is by the share which they have in the return of members to represent them. If equality is not to be found in this choice, it is to be found nowhere. If we are to have this inequality, why do we not provide that a man who is possessed of profound learning and who has a large stake in the country shall have another vote ? Why not elevate him a little above the man in his employment - his groom or his gardener ? Bat we have discarded any such principle. We have deliberately given the most ignorant man in the country the same political power as the most enlightened, and for very good reasons. The most ignorant man in the country, who is perhaps possessed of the fewest interests, is more likely to give a disinterested vote than is the individual who is interested in it up to his eyes. However, the day for arguing that question has passed. The matter which is now under consideration is - “ Will this House do something which will have the effect of taking away from the people of the Commonwealth a right which they at present enjoy.” We cannot divest ourselves of responsibility in this matter. The Minister for Trade and Customs makes no’ secret about the matter. No honorable member can afterwards say - “ I thought that if I disapproved of this scheme it would be referred back to a non-political source, and that a new scheme would be placed before us.” The Minister has been perfectly frank in his statements. He has declared that it is a choice between these recommendations and the State electoral boundaries with the number of voters within those boundaries. Surely, if we intend to revert to a State Act, and to the State-determined boundaries, we cannot help remembering that we are deliberately choosing under womanhood suffrage the same set of boundaries that obtained before the adoption of that suffrage. Is that the position which this Parliament desires to take up before onehalf of the electors of Australia? In constitutional questions of government - whenever any serious disturbance is made in the franchise - the usual practice is to elect a Parliament upon the new basis. If ever there was an occasion when that principle should apply, it is when a larger number of “electors have been added to the Victorian rolls than were there previously. Formerly there were 300,00o electors upon the Victorian roll, but under our Federal franchise there are 600,000, of whom 300,000 are women. Surely if ever Parliament should discharge what is its inherent duty, it should do so now. AVe say that we must have a High Court, an Auditor-General, and an Acts Interpretation Act and yet we refuse to perform this great vital work of determining a new scheme of political distribution upon the basis of a new na-‘ tiona! franchise. That is a responsibility which honorable members may take ; but I think that if they do they will find it a very serious one. I have spoken my mind with perfect frankness, and no one can say that I have not put the position of affairs to this House as fully as I can. If the Minister proposed to refer this distribution back, it . would be infinitely more reconcilable with our duty than is the proposal of disapproval coupled with a statement which means that if we carry the motion we shall leave the electors at the mercy of a set of boundaries established by a State authority before the creation of the Commonwealth and before women were admitted to the franchise of Australia. There is one other point to which I desire to refer. I doubt seriously whether, if this course were followed, a State like NewSouthWales or Victoria would allow such an injustice to be perpetrated. They have only to repeal the State Act and our basis has gone. The Minister for Trade and Customs may laugh. No doubt he is a great lawyer, But we know from his views on the franchise question that he is a bush one. Other honorable members, at all events, will not regard this point as a small one.. There is no provision that the laws of the States shall remain in force after we have legislated upon an electoral subject.
– It is also open to the States Parliaments to amend their electoral laws.
– Exactly. Surely no one <jan deny the right of a State to amend its electoral laws. If we leave this matter to the States it will be within the power of a State Parliament to repeal its local Act, and we shall then have no provision for delimiting the electoral boundaries. The words of the Constitution -
In the absence of other provision each State shall be one electorate - 9 means that in the absence of other provision in reference to the determination of the boundaries of electorates, each State shall be one electorate. If the States laws are repealed - and the States Parliaments have an absolute right to repeal them - there will be no provision existing in relation to the subject. Therefore, if we place ourselves in the humiliating position of leaving our electoral boundaries to a State law, and do the State electors an injustice, the State may retaliate by withdrawing its law. In that event we should secure ft suffrage to which I have no objection. There being no other ‘ provision, the whole State would vote as one elec- torate. We cannot, however, go behind our plain duty because of possible contingencies of that sort. We owe a duty to the people of Australia to define in some method or other the electoral boundaries for the Federation. It is a duty more important to hundreds of thousands of the people of Australia than even the establishment of a High Court, that we should insure, that when the first opportunity of passing judgment upon the Federal Parliament occurs, every voter shall have as fair a chance as possible of expressing his view.
– The right honorable gentleman who has just resumed his seat has made a singularly earnest and impressive appeal to the House to reject the motion submitted by the Minister. He has made a very eloquent reference to manhood suffrage and to womanhood suffrage, as well as to the democratic rights of the people, and other matters, and he has practically charged the Minister with attempting to betray and barter away the rights of the people of Victoria by submitting this proposal.
– That is perfectly true.
– I venture to assert that most of the arguments advanced by the right honorable member are utterly irrelevant and inapplicable to the question before the House. I presume he will admit that there are other honorable members in the House who are quite as democratic as he is.
– Hear, hear.
– His speech was prepared before he knew the grounds on which it was proposed to reject this scheme.
– I hope that the honorable member will give me credit for more originality than his interjection suggests.
– There are other honorable members who are quite as anxious as is the right honorable member that the democratic principles of our Electoral Act shall not be bartered away or betrayed in any way.
– Did the Government consult the honorable and learned member before they brought this matter forward t
– They have not consulted me in any way.
– I do not mean personally, but indirectly.
– They have not consulted me either directly or indirectly. I am absolutely indifferent as to whether this motion be carried or rejected, and I dare say that all honorable members find themselves in the same position. I think therefore that it would have been well if the right honorable member had continued to review this question in the calm non-party spirit which characterized his opening remarks. He seems to be extremely interested in this question which relates to the electoral divisions of Victoria, and he has made an impressive appeal to us.
– He came over from Sydney “for that special purpose.
– He came over from Sydney for the express purpose of dealing with this question. I wish to say a word or two with regard to the rights of this House. There can be no doubt that it is perfectly within the competence of the Minister to submit a motion such as this, and it is perfectly within the competence of the House to accept or to reject it. In appointing a State officer to prepare the outline of a scheme for the division of Victoria into Federal electorates, this House did not wholly abdicate its control over electoral matters. I contend that the House would be betraying its own best powers if it gave to any civil servant the uncontrolled right to delimit our electoral boundaries. As a matter of convenience, this Parliament said that it would refer the question to a Commissioner, subject to the right of review, and surely we have a right to review the distribution. We have a right to review it according to the evidence to be taken into consideration, and that evidence is be found embodied in the Commissioner’s report. The Commissioner states that he has received certain objections to the proposed distribution ? Provision is made in the Electoral Act for the reception of such objections, either from private individuals or public bodies, and it appears on the face of the report that objections have been lodged against this scheme under the provisions of the Act. What are those objections ? They go absolutely to the very root of this distribution. They are not merely directed to the exercise of the Commissioner’s discretionary power of allocating members according to population with an allowance above or below the quota. I, for one, should be prepared to admit that if the officer had exercised his discretion within his competency, and there were no other fundamental objection lodged against the distribution, the case of those who objected to it would be much stronger than it actually is. But the objections are not based solely upon the exercise of the Commissioner’s discretionary power. The preliminary objection, as set forth in the report, goes to the root of the data which was at the Commissioner’s disposal when making this distribution. The report sets forth that -
The following objects in writing were received by me, viz. : -
Reduction of the number of country divisions to fourteen on the following grounds, viz. : -
That the statistics as to the number of electors residing in the country-ore unreliable . . .
The officer does not in any way challenge the force or the ground-work of that objection. He merely says that he was bound to accept the data submitted to him. As a member of this House, I believe that the objection that the statistics as to the number of electors residing in the country submitted to the officer were absolutely unreliable is well founded. Evidence with regard to the point is embodied in the objections which have been submitted to the Commissioner ; and the House may, if it thinks fit, call upon him to produce the objections. As a member of this House I have received communications from electors and publicbodies throughout Victoria, stating that when the statistics were collected the population of the State was not in accordance with thenormal distribution. There had been an extraordinary disturbance and dislocation of the normal distribution of population. It is notorious that at the time of the collection of the statistics the drought-stricken districts of Victoria were almost depopulated, and that thousands of people who-, usually reside in country districts had been compelled temporarily to take refuge in Melbourne. That is the fundamental ob,jection to this distribution. The electoral officer in charge o£ this matter does not challenge the accuracy of that allegation. He merely says that he was bound absolutely to the figures submitted to him, and there can be no doubt that those figures did not fairly and properly .represent the normal distribution of the population of the State. That being so, I ask whether it would be fairto accept a distribution, based upon a return which did not show the usual distribution of population ? It would be absolutely unfair, and would amount to that very disfranchisement, so far as the people residingin country districts are concerned, which the leader of the Opposition said would occur in the city electorates.
– Has the honorable and learned member any idea as to the number of people who left the country districts in consequence of the drought ?
– The numbers are said to be very large, but there is no means . of ascertaining the actual figures unless a. census be taken, or a re-collection of the names of the electors be made.
– Is there no rough estimate ?
– Many of the county districts of Victoria were absolutely depopulated, and cattle and sheep, which had not died in the drought-stricken centres, were driven to the western districts of the State. Therefore it would be most unfair to accept that as a fair time at which to divide the population for electoral purposes. The right honorable and learned member for East Sydney has pointed out that, upon the occasion of the Melbourne Cup meeting, there is an extraordinary influx of visitors to the metropolis from the country districts; but I ask would that be a fair time at which to divide the population? It is equally unfair to make the division in a droughtstricken period such as has never before occurred in the history of Victoria. It would be utterly useless to refer the proposed distribution to the Commissioner now, because, if we did so, he would have no new statistics to guide him in making any modification of his scheme. The distribution might effectively be referred to the Commissioner if arrangements were to be made for a new compilation of the electoral rolls ; but is there time for that to be done before the end of the year, when, it is generally admitted, the elections for this House, as well as for the Senate, should take place? It is useless to refer the schemeto the Commissioner except subject to the condition that the population statistics shall be revised, and the lists of voters re-compiled. With regard to the constitutional position of our electoral law in the event of the motion being carried, the right honorable and learned member for East Sy dney has suggested that the laws of the States will either have no force, or may cease to have force. I submit, however, that under section 108 of the Constitution the laws of the States will continue to have force until they are superseded by other provisions. Hitherto they havenot been sosuperseded,and they will not be superseded until both Houses approve of new schemes of distribution. It has been suggested that the Parliaments of the States may repeal their laws. I do not think that there is much probability of that. I think the members of those Parliaments are quite satisfied to allow the present electoral divisions to remain.
– But should we leave the management of our affairs in their hands?
– Certainly not.
– We are exercising our own discretion in disapproving of the Commissioner’s scheme o£ distribution.
– Yes. We cannot be forced to approve of the Commissioner’s distribution, and I hope that before we get rid of the existing electoral divisions we shall have an opportunity to deal; calmly and judicially, with a new scheme of distribution based on proper information.
M r.F. E. McLean. - Does the honorable and learned member say that section 108 of the Constitution prevents the Parliaments of the States from repealing or altering their laws?
– I say nothing of the kind ; but if there is any doubt on the subject it will be easy for the Government to bring in a short Bill adopting the existing divisions.
– That is what will be done.
– I do not know that it is absolutely necessary to do that, but it would remove any doubt as to the constitutional position, and in the meantime a re-examination of the population statistics can be made, and a new distribution based upon them submitted for our approval. To my mind, the matter is one which can be dealt with without eloquent speeches such as we have had from the right honorable and learned member for East Sydney this afternoon, about the inviolability of adult suffrage. He has admitted that this is not a party question, and I submit that it is entirely within the discretion of the House to say whether the Commissioner’s scheme shall or shall not be approved. I think chat for the reasons contained in the objections which have been received by the Commissioner, and altogether apart from the conflict of town and country interests, upon which I do not wish to dwell, we should pause before approving of the Commissioner’s distribution.
– I could quite understand the arguments of the honorable and learned member for Bendigo, if this Parliament had not deliberately adopted a franchise which is entirely different from that upon which the electoral divisions framed by the States were based: Parliament has definitely decided, at the request of the Minister who has moved the motion now under the consideration of honorable members, that the franchise upon which the legislators of the Commonwealth are in future to be chosen shall be entirely different from that upon which they were chosen in the past. We, by our own Act, extended the franchise to almost as many more electors as there were previously on the rolls, and yet we are asked to allow a new Parliament, which may exist for a period of three years, to be elected on the old basis, which we have decided is an improper one. Surely no other Parliament was ever asked to place itself in such a position. To do so means one of two things : Either that we do not now approve of the law which we have passed, and, instead of recognising that fact and repealing it, intend to evade its provisions, or that we approve of it, but are incapable of carrying its provisions into effect. In my opinion every step and stage in connexion with the administration of our electoral legislation has shown incapacity. I do not know upon whom the blame for that incapacity rests, but incapacity has been shown in the dawdling since the measure was passed before effective steps were taken to carry its provisions into operation ; in the instructions that were given to the Governments of the States, allowing them to collect the list of voters, not on the Commonwealth franchise but on the State franchise, and in the discrepancies that occurred between the actual population as shown by the census and the number of the voters on the rolls. Now the Minister practically states that we have not time to carry the law into effect.
– I did not say so.
– Then why not refer these schemes of distribution to the Commissioners ? The motion is a practical admission that we have not time to carry the law into effect.
– No, it is not. There is plenty of time.
– If that is so, we must take this position : that the Minister is deliberately departing from a law which Parliament has passed. He must accept one position or the other. I have given him credit for not wishing to deliberately evade the provisions of the Commonwealth Act, but if he accepts that position he must admit that there is not now. time, owing to the neglect and delay which has occurred, to provide for the holding of the next elections under that Act. If the Minister says that there is time, and that he has, for other reasons, taken the course which he asks us to approve, he is asking us to evade the provisions of a law which we have passed, and to submit ourselves for re-election upon a franchise which is entirely different from that which Parliament has sanctioned. The Minister himself introduced the Franchise Bill which provided for adult suffrage. He approved of the principle that women should -have an equal voice with men in the election of members of the Commonwealth Parliament, and we agreed to it on his recommendation. Then he introduced an Electoral Bill which provided that there should be approximately equal representation. He did not propose in that Bill to give a larger representation to country populations than was given to town populations.
– Nor do I propose to do so now.
– The quota was altered during the consideration of the Bill in Committee by the difference between one-fourth and one-fifth, and the .Minister accepted the amendment without division. But now, apparently because certain results are seen to follow from this provision which might have been anticipated at the time, the Minister desires to evade the Act, his reason being that, owing to the drought, a great many of the country people of Victoria have been. driven to the coast, so that the number now residing in the country districts does not represent anything like their average ‘population. That matter was brought before the Commissioner. His action of course was governed by the provisions of the Act ; but what does he say about the effect of the drought upon the movements of the population 1 He says -
In view of 6he fact that the “quota of electors “ is to be the “ basis for the distribution,” the area comprised in the existing country divisions would be entitled, strictly speaking, to 12J members, and the city to about 10J.
That is what they would be entitled to, but the Commissioner has actually given fourteen members to the country and nine to the city. He proceeds to say -
As, however, section 16 of the Act referred to grants a discretionary power to depart to the extent of one-fifth more or one-fifth less than the quota, and having in view the recognised interests as between country and city, and that many electors in drought-stricken areas were temporarily, residing in the city, I deemed it prudent to exercise that power to a very large extent.
There is a statement by the Commissioner that he has recognised the difference, and that he has allowed for it in the numbers which he has allotted to the city and country electorates. Apart from this, the facts show that he must have done so. The allowance makes a difference of about 48,000 votes to the city. The Commissioner was appointed hy the Minister, and yet the Minister now seems to doubt his capacity.
– What would be the use of bringing the report before the House if we were compelled to abide by the Commissioner’s recommendation 1
– There is no necessity to do that. The idea was that if the report were not accepted by the House after good reasons had been shown, it should be referred back to the Commissioner. The Minister, however, proposes to go further and imputes incapacity to the Commissioner.
– I have not done anything of the kind. Honorable members opposite are making all the imputations.
– We may be doing so by words, but the Minister is doing so by his actions, which we are interpreting. The Commissioner who was appointed by the Minister states that he has made allowance for the transfer of population from the country districts to the towns owing to the drought, and yet the Minister proposes to reject the recommendation because no such allowance has been made.
– The Commissioner has not the power to make a sufficient allowance.
– But we must be bound by the law as well as by the report of the Commissioner.
– The Commissioner says that he does not know the facts, but that he is bound to accept certain statements made by the Home Affairs Department.
– That is the Minister’s own Department. Surely the reliability of that Department cannot be questioned. The Commissioner says that he has made allowance for the fact that a considerable number of people have removed from the country to thecoast, and thefigures themselves indicate that full allowance must have been made.Under the old division there were eight representatives allotted to the city and fifteen to the country, whereas under the new distribution of seats there would be nine city representatives and fourteen country representatives.
– But the Commissioner has excised 8,000 voters from the city electorates, and added them to the country electorates, which, if the additional number is taken into account, means a loss of representation to the country of one member and a half.
– Not quite as much as that. Perhaps one member and a third.
– That representation taken from one group of electorates and added to the other makes a difference of two and two- thirds in the representation of one group as compared with the other.
– I am dealing with simple and not compound numbers. We have to remember that there is a large excess of women in the city and suburbs as compared with the country districts, and that therefore we might expect some considerable alteration in the relative number of voters in town and country, owing to the extension of the franchise to women. Surely the representation of women, who are largely located in the city and suburbs, must make some difference, and therefore the allowance made by the Commissioner of one member more to city and suburbs, and one member less to the country, is the very smallest that he could have conceded. I think that this shows that he has taken into account the fact that the country districts were not in a normal condition. This is further shown by his own statement, and, as pointed out by the honorable and learned member for East Sydney, by the allowance in the quota made in favour of the country districts. I am not looking upon this as a party matter. Taking all the States together, I do not know that much difference would be made one way or the other from the party point of view. It may be that the chances of the free-traders would be greater in the country districts of Victoria than in the city and suburbs, but we know that in New South Wales the positions are reversed. It is, however, a most serious thing to pass an Act laying down the basis of. future legislation, and to ignore it by adhering to a distribution which has been condemned, and under which it is impossible to provide for the proportionate representation of women who have now been admitted to the franchise. If we do not carry out the principle laid down in the Electoral Act, we shall be denying to women the right whichwe professed to give them, and I think that they will have a substantial grievance against the Government for not carrying out their promise to accord them equal representation with men.
– In what way are we depriving them of it ?
– Does not the honorable member see?
– No; nor any one else.
– If the Minister cannot see that the effect of adhering to the present divisions will be to deprive the women of equal representation with men, I do not wonder at the bungling by which the whole of our electoral arrangements have been allowed to drift into a state of chaos.
– What difference does it make?
– I shall show the honorable member by taking my own electorate as an example. There are in that electorate 17,000 or 18,000 women, who will be represented by one member ; whilst in some of the country districts of New South Wales there are not more than 7,000 women who will also be represented by one member.
– More women from the country reside temporarily in the electorate represented by the honorable member than in any other electorate of which I know.
– Perhaps I know the electorate as well as does the Minister. I have resided there for a longer period, and, although I was honoured by having the Minister as one of my constituents for a time, I cannot admit his claim to know more of the electorate than I do.
– I lived there for fifteen years.
– I have lived there for 25 years. Prom my knowledge of the electorate, people from the country do resort to it in large numbers, but they would not represent any appreciable proportion of their own electorates as they returned, and scattered over the droughtstricken districts of New South Wales. That proves that the women would not be equally represented with the men, if we went to the country upon the old divisions.
– They would be on an equality with the men in our old electorates.
– They would not, nor would they be on an equality with other women, or upon anything like an equality with them.
– Why draw a distinction between men on one side and women on the other?
– Why did we pass the Electoral Act? Was it not with the object of enfranchising women and of giving them equal representation with men ? That meant that there would be a redistribution, and that redistribution must have some effect on the proportion of representation allotted to each district. The people of the districts who do not get the benefit of the redistribution to which they are entitled will have just cause for complaint.
– It is really good to witness this new-born zeal on behalf of the women.
– I do not know what the honorable member means by my “ newborn zeal.” Possibly I voted in favour of extending the franchise to women long before he did. I am not displaying any particular zeal on behalf of the women; I regard them merely as electors. This Parliament decided that the States should be divided in a certain way, and that there should be a certain number of voters in each electorate. We accepted a particular margin, and, havingdone so, we have a right to see that the forthcoming elections are carried out under those conditions. What did the present Minister for Trade and Customs say in introducing the Electoral Bill ? He said -
The principle of the Bill is equal representation.
– He has not gone back upon that statement.
– He has gone back upon the Bill, and consequently upon the principle of equal representation. He continued -
If the number of electors exceed 1,000 more or less, the reason for not adhering to the quota must be stated.
– Does that mean that there is to be an equal population in town and country electorates ?
– Then the Government will never carry it ; they will have a lively time.
That prophecy was one of many which did not come true. Perhaps the Ministry experienced a “ lively time,” but they carried the Bill. The Minister emphatically declared that there would be equal representation as between town and country. Now, however, it is not proposed that there shall not be any such equal representation. Surely it is a serious thing for this Parliament to admit - as it will do if it carries the Ministerial proposal - that, whilst it desired that the forthcoming elections should be conducted under an Electoral Act of its own, and whilst it wished to take out of the hands of the States Legislatures a power which was given to them temporarily by the Constitution, it is in this matter an absolutely incapable Parliament, led by an incapable Ministry ! Surely it will be a confession of incapacity if we leave the electoral law controlling the next elections in the hands of the States !
– We leave a great many laws in the hands of the States.
– Not when we have once taken over and dealt with the matters to which they relate.
– Which does the honorable member prefer - the State or an official ?
– The position is that we are not merely asked to go back upon the decision of an official. If that were so, we should return his work to him for correction. That is the course which is proposed in the Electoral Act. But it is now suggested that we should abandon that Act by declaring, either that it is a bad one - in which case we should revoke it - or that we are unable to carry out its provisions. That is a humiliating position to occupy. We shall have to elect a new Parliament under the States laws.
– The Minister proposes to do so.
Mr.Wilks. - The Minister says that he will bring in a Bill to legalize the present position.
– By adopting the States laws we shall evidence our incapacity.
– How shall we evidence our incapacity if the States Parliaments have adopted good divisions ?
– Because we declared in the Act that the State divisions were not suitable for us. The honorable member knows perfectly well that we passed an Act which conferred the suffrage upon women. We also enacted a law which declared that there should be equal representation, except to the extent of a particular margin. If we adopt the States laws under which the first Commonwealth Parliament was elected, shall we not be going back upon our own Act?
-We are only refusing to accept something that has been done under the Act.
– The honorable member may use his special pleading as he likes, but the fact remains as I have stated.
– If the rolls were compiled during Cup week, would the honorable member give the city the benefit of its increased population ?
– When the honorable member for Gippsland moved an amendment in the Electoral Bill, he stated that if that measure were carried-
– It was not carried in the form in which it was introduced.
– It was; except that a smaller margin was allowed.
– There was a larger margin, if I remember aright.
– There was a margin of one-fourth allowed.
– I do not think so.
– The Minister for Trade and Customs will assure the honorable member upon the point. In the Bill, as originally framed, there was a margin of one-fourth allowed. That margin was reduced to one-fifth. I will show the honorable member that the condition which he declares exists at the present time cannot possibly exist. In discussing that measure, he declared that if it were carried in the form in which it then appeared the country would suffer largely. The representation of town and country was then as eight is to fifteen. Now the country has not suffered largely. Under the new scheme, as compared with the old, there is a difference of one vote only between the representation of town and country. Does not that clearly show that the Commissioner who made these divisions must have given very fair consideration to the points which have been urged by the Minister for Trade and Customs and the honorable and learned member for Bendigo ? I do not oppose this proposal, because of the effect which its adoption may have upon the relative strength of the parties in this House, or because my own interests are in jeopardy. So far as I am personally concerned, I am thoroughly satisfied with the old and new division which has been made in my electorate. But we should be careful to avoid conveying the impression that this Parliament, having deliberately adopted a certain policy, is afraid to face the results of that policy. That must be the position. I very much regret that the Minister has failed to take the course which he led us to believe would be followed in dealing with this matter, namely, that any distribution, to which there might be reasonable and proper objection, would be sent back to the Commissioner. When the Minister was introducing the Electoral Bill, he indicated that that course would be adopted, and, I think, that it would be a very proper one to take if the House saw fit. Instead of that, however, it is proposed that we shall abandon the provision that has been made. We are to take that action, although, according to those who support it, there can be, under this distribution, a difference of only one member between the representation of town and country. If the honorable member for Gippsland was correct when he proposed an amendment of the Electoral Bill–
– I was correct.
– In that event this distribution would not even make a difference of one. The honorable member said that the Bill would make a great change in the representation of the two sections of the community, andin any circumstances there can be a difference of only one. I am not taking up this attitude solely in reference to Victoria. I shall follow the same course when we come to deal with the other distributions. In each case I shall accept the distribution made by the Commissioner, unless good reason is shown for returning it to him. Objection is taken to the Victorian distribution, but are wenot to be given an opportunity to return it to the Commissioner? If the Minister says that he does not propose to give us such an opportunity, I shall oppose his proposal.
– I approach the discussion of this subject with very considerable diffidence, in view of the fact that I am specially interested in it. I trust that honorable members will not consider that I arn guilty of any impropriety in speaking to this question.
– The honorable member is only exercising his right.
– I have received numerous letters and copies of resolutions carried at public meetings, requesting me to put before the House the views held by my constitutents in regard to the proposed distribution, and although I should prefer to remain silent, I feel that I am morally bound to carry out their desires. In one way this scheme has been a source of gratification to me. My friends, thinking that I might be politically dead if this distribution were adopted, have apparently been aeting on the principle that the virtues of a man should always be extolled after his demise, and I have been discovering lately what an excellent representative I make, and how much my constituents think of me. The district which I represent is a somewhat peculiar one, and I am not surprised that my constituents are fighting very strongly against the proposal that the electorate shall be absorbed by surrounding electorates. I do not say for one moment that in that event they would not be more ably represented than they are at the present time, but there are certain considerations which warrant their action in opposing this proposal. The electorate of Echuca happens to comprise the irrigation districts of this State. It was specially mapped out with a view to securing the proper representation of the irrigation interests of Victoria. The system is still practically in its infancy, and as it has to fight a very hard battle, my constituents naturally feel that with one representative, who is able to concentrate his attention on the work, they are in a much better position than they would be if they were attached to different electorates, and had four or five members representing an area so large that their minds would be taken away from the subject of irrigation. This fact explains why the people of my electorate are so strongly opposed to this proposal at the present time, while from other portions of Victoria there have come but very few complaints as to the readjustment of boundaries. My constituents feel that if the electorate is absorbed by the surrounding divisions it will absolutely lose its individuality, and that is another reason for their opposition to this proposal. I think that the change made by the Commissioner in regard to my electorate might have been avoided. I do not believe that when this House passed the Electoral Bill it contemplated anything further than the re-adjustment of boundaries. It certainly never contemplated the making of ruthless changes in constituencies. I fail to see why we provided the margin of 20 per cent. if it was not intended to meet cases such as the one I am now putting before honorable members. That provision was either inserted in the Bill for a specific purpose or it was not. I understood that it was inserted in order that a margin might be allowed between the town and country districts.
– By no means.
– I am putting the matter before the House only as it presented itself to me at the time.
– Certain changes were made in the clauses with that specific intention. I moved the amendment, and therefore I ought to know what was the object that we had in view.
– The provision for the margin was made in order that a considerable degree of latitude might be shown in dealing with the divisions under special circumstances that might arise. No one could tell what those special circumstances might be ; but we knew that they were likely to occur, and, therefore, we made provision for them. In the case of Victoria very special circumstances have arisen, and although the leader of the Opposition may scoff at the drought, and say that the changes which it caused in our population were, in reality, only normal changes, I venture to assert that he would not be prepared to go up to the northern districts of Victoria, which he recently visited, and repeat the speech that he delivered this evening.
– What about the drought in New South Wales?
– I am dealing only with the position in Victoria. Doubtless at a later stage we shall have the experience of New South Wales put before the House. The drought which took place in Victoria was far too serious a matter to be ignored. I have travelled over miles and miles of country, and have found house after house empty. I have found men and lads leaving their homes in the north in order to attend to their stock in Gippsland. I have found them also travelling their stock over all the roads in Victoria on which any grass was to be obtained. I have found whole families shifted, not only to Melbourne, as has been suggested this evening, but to various parts of the State, the women and children going wherever they could find friends to take them in. I have also found women, who in ordinary circumstances would have been on their farms, working as domestic servants and endeavouring to earn a few shillings to make some provision for their families. That has been the position of affairs in the north of Victoria, and now some honorable memhers would add to the hardships which the prolonged drought has entailed upon the men of the north political disabilities and injustice.
– They would also impose political disabilities upon the women.
– This scheme would not deprive these people of their votes.
– It would, because they would mot be on the rolls for the district in which they lived.
– I take it that the officer administering the Electoral Act ought to look to the last wish expressed by the House when dealing with the measure in order to ascertain the mature determination arrived at by us. The mature determination at which we arrived was that a margin of 20 per cent. should be allowed. The Commissioner admits in his own report that in mapping out the electorates he allowed a margin because of the drought ; but he could have avoided all this trouble by allowing a still larger margin. In doing so he would not have gone outside the four corners of the Act. The electoral census was taken at a time when the drought was at its very worst stage. Most of the normal population of the north had left, and helped to swell the returns for other districts. The names of many people residing in the north of Victoria now appear on the rolls for other divisions, and they will be deprived of their votes unless-
– The names of those who were travelling on the roads will not appear on any roll.
– No. At many meetings held all over the electorate of Echuca to protest against the change proposed to be made, numbers of men have asserted that their names are on the rolls for other divisions, and do not appear on the rolls for the district to which they have now returned. Honorable members are aware that the first inch or two of rain which fell after the prolonged drought made a great change in the northern districts of Victoria. It caused the farmers and others who had been forced to go elsewhere to return at once to their homes. But their voting power has been taken to swell electorates in other parts of the State. I was speaking recently to a man living near Boort, who, some two or three years ago, took the census for that district. He said that he ha’d recently travelled over 30 or 40 miles of country, and had found that where - but a few years before - numbers of people were living, scarcely a house was occupied. I take it that, before we make this great and fundamental change in our electoral system, we should be sure of our ground. My remarks apply specially to Victoria, where we have always been used to a margin being given in favour of country divisions. In New
South Wales, on the contrary, no such principle has been recognised, and doubtless it is owing to that fact that honorable members from that State come to cross purposes with us. Before we introduce so fundamental a change as this in our electoral system we should make sure that we are adopting an accurate basis. If we do not work on an accurate basis, we shall simply give rise to even greater anomalies than existed under the old law. Many men who clamoured for equal representation would find when the new rolls were prepared under this scheme that they exhibited greater anomalies than were to be found in the old ones. We must remember that once we accept a change of this kind we shall not readily be able to depart from it. Once an electorate has lost its individuality it may never regain separate representation. Is the adjustment of boundaries to be always at the whim of an official? It seems to me somewhat extraordinary that some honorable members should be so ready and eager to place this House absolutely under the heel of one of its own officials. If we intended to be guided simply by the Commissioner, why did we insert a provision in the Electoral Bill that the distribution made by him should be submitted to us? Was it not intended that the House should be the final arbiter? Is the House to be ruled by one of its own servants? Is it not to do what it believes to be right, independently of what any official may conceive to be his duty? The Commissioner looks at the Act and says - “ I cannot take the drought into consideration ; I must be guided simply by the law.” And, having made his distribution, he hands over his scheme to the House so that we may do what we think fit with it. We should assert and maintain our supremacy as against any mere official. I wish to deal briefly with the mode in which the electoral census was collected. It was taken under a system entirely new to Victoria. In New South Wales it has been the custom for many years to allow the police to collect the electoral census, and the men are, therefore, familiar with the work. When they were called upon to perform this service for the Commonwealth, they recognised that it was part of their duty, and they accepted it as such. But in Victoria the work was entirely new to the police, and they scarcely knew how to proceed with it. I know, from my own personal experience and from conversations which I had with the police, that they hardly knew how to go about the work. In a great many cases, no doubt, it was a distasteful duty, and the police were not very particular in their performance of it. Doubtless many of them carried out the work perfunctorily, and one cannot express much surprise, for it seems to be the fashion nowadays to hand over every new governmental duty to the police. I will give honorable members an instance. A complaint was sent to me from the eastern portion of my district, where the drought was not so bad, that several names had been omitted from the rolls. I sent it on to the Electoral Department, and obtained the following reply : -
With reference to Mr. H. Russell’s communication to you of the 8th June, indorsed by you, in which that gentleman states that no one had called round the district to collect the names of females, I have to informyou that MountedConstable S. H. Marshall, who was intrusted with the duty, called at the house of Mr. Russell, but, not finding any one at home, he received Mr. Russell’s name from a neighbour, and was advised that a number of females had objected to their names or information being afforded to the police for the purpose of enrolment.
I sent that letter to the person who had made the complaint, and he wrote this letter - 30th July, 1903.
In answer to letter received from you on 27th inst., I have been making inquiries, and find that there are niue families representing sixteen females over 21 years of age in this immediate neighbourhood where Constable S. H. Marshall did not call. He is altogether wrong in saying that he called here and found no one at home.I beg to say that there is always some of the family at home.
I know that that statement is correct, because the man keeps a post-office at which considerable business is done, and his postal duties compel him to have some one always in the house to attend to persons who may have business to transact. The letters show how perfunctorily the rolls have been compiled. What is the result ? We find that in Victoria alone 40,000 names are unaccounted for. Is that to be wondered at when there are so many people driving their stock on the roads, and when the work of compilation has been done so perfunctorily ?
– But what has the Electoral-office been doing ?
– I consider that for a first attempt the Electoral-office has not done its work badly.
– Was not one list containing 1,000 names lost sight of altogether ?
– Yes. Can any one say that the statistics collected by the police afford a fair and accurate basis upon which to distribute the electoral divisions? I think that a close investigation would discover that most of the 40,000 names which are missing are the names of persons residing in the country districts, because it is so much more difficult to accurately determine the population of the country than to accurately determine the population of the towns. Who will be hurt if the next elections are conducted on the present divisions ? It is all nonsense to say that we are putting ourselves in the power of the States authorities. Honorable members opposite say that this is not a party question, but their speeches have been party speeches, and no doubt, if a vote is taken, it will be a party vote.
– We do not doubt that honorable members on the Ministerial side have arranged for a party vote.
– When the elections are over we shall be asking of the Opposition, with Hans Breitmann, “ Where is dot barty now ?”
– I ask the honorable member for Eden- Monaro not to interject.
– What I have said has not been said in any party spirit, nor to secure party interests ; but I hope that, for the securing of the proper representation of the country, the distribution of the electoral division of Victoria will be left over until the seasons again become normal, and we can proceed upon an accurate basis.
– After the very fair way in which the honorable member for Gippsland opened the case for the representatives of the country districts of Victoria, it is a pity that the issue has been clouded by the introduction of irrelevant matter. The leader of the Opposition would have given us an excellent speech if he had been merely advocating a system of equal electorates ; but his remarks contained a covert threat to those who might not fall in with his views. The question, with which he dealt was thoroughly thrashed out when the Electoral Bill was before us. One of the conditions which was introduced into that measure by the honorable and learned member for Corinella was that existing boundaries of divisions should be taken into consideration by the Commissioners in the demarcation of new divisions. But can that direction of Parliament be considered to have been carried out in the case of Victoria, in view of the fact that one of the existingdivisionsisomitted from theproposed distribution ? Considerable objection has been taken to the proposed distribution, on the ground that the recent drought considerably affected the location of population, but I think that even more objection is to be taken to it because of the way in which the electoral rolls have been compiled by the police. I, like other honorable members, know how greatly the drought has affected the population of the country districts of Victoria, and especially of the districts in the northern part of the State; but I also know that the work of collecting the rolls was most inefficiently performed. I do not blame the police, because they had an almost impossible task. Besides, any one who knows what it is to ride long distances in the country, perhaps on a tired horse, seeking the names of persons living in one little settlement and another here and there, know how apt a policeman would be to shirk the duty, and to take other methods of arriving at the names of those residing in the district. I believe that many names were obtained by the police by attending sales and small race meetings. I know that my own name was not collected, nor were those of some of the members of my family. Altogether, the system adopted has been a bad one, and I think that the Minister would have done better to take the census returns, making a fair estimate of the arrivals and departures’, and divide the State accordingly. The leader of the Opposition spoke about the difference between the town and country electorates. According to the police returns, the average difference is 4,441; but if the census returns had been adopted it would have been only 2,717. I do not think, however, that 4,441 is a very large difference, if the conditions of the country districts are taken into consideration. Moreover, if the census returns had been taken, the additional number of country electors would have been 25,860, which would have been enough to make up another division. In my opinion, had the census returns been taken, the present arrangement of divisions would not have been much altered. The right honorable member also made a strong point of the difference caused by the introduction of the adult franchise, and he quoted figures to show the number of women enfranchised in certain town and country electorates. It is, of course, impossible to arrive at accurate figures in connexion with any of these matters, and I do not think there has been much accuracy in the statements which have been made during the discussion ; but, assuming that there has not been much alteration in the character of the population, whereas in my electorate there were formerly 10,200 electors, there will now be 21,441 electors, showing that 11,241 women have been added. I have, on more than one occasion in this chamber, pressed upon the Minister the desirability of collecting the names of the electors who are missing. ‘I believe that most of them are in the country districts, and have been overlooked by the police. But if the rolls are to be compiled again, the work will take a long time to do thoroughly, and it would be impossible to get it done before the end of the year. I wish now to make one or two remarks in regard to the existing boundaries of the divisions. Like the honorable member for Gippsland, I have no reason to complain of the alterations which have been made. He says that the place where he went to school has been included in his electorate, and the place where I was born has been included in mine. But it appears to me that the Commissioner has not grasped the position so far as the boundaries of the divisions in the western district are concerned. The Grampian mountains have hitherto divided the electorate of the Wannon from the electorate of the Grampians, though they do not really count for much as a division. What really separates one place from another is want Of means of communication. Under the proposed distribution, however, the division of the Grampians has been run right up to the neighbourhood of Ararat, while the boundary of Wannon commences between Ararat and Dunkeld. If, instead of taking the Grampians as the line of boundary, some of the parish boundaries to the east of the railway line were adopted, the representative of the Wannon electorate would be able to travel through his own electorate on his way west. If, however, this portion of the Grampians electorate were included in Corangamite, a round-about railway journey would be necessitated to reach it. I see there are three parishes, Cooramook, Framlingham West, and Purnim, which jut right into the Wannon electorate, and that seems to me to be a mistake. If the means of communication, and the facilities offered to members for travelling through their districts had been considered, the boundaries would have been very differently arranged. Originally Talbot, and a portion of the country around, was included in the Grampians electorate. A petition was sent in to the Commissioner in favour of having’ that portion excised from the Grampians electorate and included in Laanecoorie, but a meeting held at Rupanyup asked that it should still be retained in the Grampians electorate. That portion of my electorate has, however, also been included in the Wannon electorate. The result of the subdivision is to give the honorable member for Wannon 3,000 more votes than I have, whilst the number of electors in the Laanecoorie electorate has been increased to 25,000. Originally there were 24,000 electors in the Grampians electorate, and 23,000 in Laanecoorie. Now the number, of electors in the Grampians division has been reduced to 21,000, whilst those in the Wannon district have been increased to 24,000. I am making no complaint, and the objections which I have mentioned would not be regarded by me as obstacles in the way of the adoption of the Commissioner’s recommendation ; but, in view of action that may be taken in the future, I think it well to make known the information which I have submitted to the House. I believe that, in order to do justice to Victoria, either the distribution of the electorates should be left over till some future time, when we have returned to normal conditions, or some effort should be made to subdivide the State upon a fairer basis as regards population. I understand that there are 32,000 country electors and 5,000 town electors whose names have been missed. . If these had been placed upon the roll, the additional electors which would have been given to the country districts would have increased the net difference between the number of electors in the towns and those in the country by 26,000. I shall support the proposal of the Government.
– In dealing with this question, I think it ought to be clearly understood that if. the House reject the distribution proposals, it will cast no reflection whatever upon the Commissioner, or upon the officials who have assisted him in collecting information. No doubt the Commissioner and the various officers engaged did the best they could, because the circumstances were so unfavorable, and so unusual that this House is now called upon to say that it will not adopt for three years the results of these unusual circumstances. It has been said that, if we assent to the Government proposal, we shall abandon the Electoral Act. I think that statement must have been made with some degree of thoughtlessness, because, if we look at the Electoral Act, we shall find that it is divided into seventeen parts. Exclusive of the first part, there are sixteen others dealing with administration, electoral divisions, polling places, electoral rolls, voting by post, electoral offences, and other matters, all of which we propose to utilize, excepting the one consisting of twelve sections relating to electoral divisions. So that the House would by no means throw itself upon the old State electoral law. It is proposed to adhere to and make use of nine-tenths of the Electoral Act, and we are now exercising that very reserve power that was given to us under the Act, to meet unforeseen emergencies. That is the whole position. When the Electoral Bill was before us, the House adopted a course which a number of us thought might lead to difficulties. We considered that the distribution of the States into electoral divisions might have been left to the judgment and discretion of honorable members with a full knowledge of all the circumstances. But it was thought better to intrust to an officer in the first instance the duty of preparing for the consideration of the House the proposed distribution. Certain directions were given to the Commissioner, and I have no doubt that these have, as far as possible, been most faithfully observed; but it now remains for us, under section 21 of the Act, to say whether the Houses of Parliament can agree to adopt the distribution he has suggested. That is a very simple question. So far.from abandoning the Act we are exercising the powers given to us by the Act, and I cannot understand how the Minister can be fairly charged with doing anything to contravene the principles of the Act, or anything inconsistent with the attitude he assumed when the Bill was going through Parliament. The whole matter comes down to a question of fact. If honorable members will look carefully at the report furnished by the Commissioner, they will see that he almost absolutely admitsthe justice of the position taken up by the Government to-night. He points out that he has had various objections sent to him in relation to the reduction of the country divisions to fourteen. The first three of these objections are stated as follows : -
What is his answer? I am not dealing with the other objections to which he furnishes a clear and satisfactory answer, but, with regard to these which go to the very root of the matter, this is his answer-
That I must be guided by, and can act only on, the official number of electors furnished by the Department of Home Affairs.
In other words, he inferentially says - However convinced I may be that the objections are well founded ; however satisfied I may be from my own knowledge gathered as a citizen of this country, and from the evidence brought before me by those who are directing my attention to these objections, I am utterly unable as a Commissioner to take any notice of that information. However much I should like to do so, or however necessary it may be to pay attention to it, I must confine my attention to the information officially forwarded to me, and which as an individual I may be thoroughly satisfied is unreliable.
Mr.F. E. McLean. - Does the Minister impeach that information ?
– I think that we all impeach it, but we do not impeach the Minister or his officers. The officers have done the best they could under the novel circumstances, but in spite of all the care taken, errors have crept in - errors of such magnitude that they would lead in our opinion to manifest injustice-
– The Electoral Officer handed the whole matter over to the police of Victoria, who collected the names.
– Now, what are we do under these circumstances ? The honorable member for Dalley says, “ Send the report back.” But what would happen if we sent th e report back to the Commissioner ? Would the same official returns be given to the Commissioner ? If so, we should not be any further advanced. Are we to start a new census all through the country ? That would be a very risky proceeding in view of the approaching elections. We might have to hurry the matter, and we might not obtain any more reliable information than we have now, and the House would then have to hurriedly decide what should be done. I consider that the Government have taken the right course. They have told us in effect that there are only three courses which can be adopted. The first is to approve of a proposal which is obviously unjust, and which although attributable to no one as a fault, ought not to be imposed upon the State of Victoria for a period of three years. The next course is to remit the report back to the Commissioner, and I -agree with those who believe that it would be idle to remit the matter back for reconsideration upon the same unreliable materials as those available in the first instance. The third coarse to adopt, is to decide that for the next three years we shall retain the same electoral divisions as we have had for the past three years. I wish to say one word with regard to some observations which fell from the leader of the Opposition, and which formed, I think, practically the key-note of his speech. He said that we had enfranchised the women of Australia, and ought not to deny them the grant that we had accorded them. I agree thoroughly with him, but I think that when he proceeds to apply that proposition he made a great mistake. He said in one breath that we had placed women upon the same platform -us men, and then he went out ‘of his way to ask how the women were represented under the present electoral divisions, not as electors, but as women. I take it that that was a wrong basis to adopt. We are no longer to consider how men are represented proportionately with nien, or women proportionately with women, but how the men and women are represented proportionately and indiscriminately as electors. They are no longer men and women for electoral purposes, but citizens. Each one is an electoral unit - sex has nothing to do with it. It is entirely beside the question,. now that women are placed on the rolls, to consider how the women of the town are represented as compared with the women of the. country, or how the men of the town are represented as compared with the men in the country. Any argument based upon any such considerations is a fallacy. We cannot do what we should like. We cannot mete out exact justice. But we are not departing one iota from the principles of the Bill, or from the rule laid down in it. We are doing no more than is contemplated by another section of the . Act, namely, section 23, which provides that the divisions in the States may be re-arranged from time to time as occasion may require. Let us suppose that we adopted these divisions, and that within two years, owing to the discovery of a gold-field or to any other natural cause, the population shifted from one part of the State to another* What would the Government do? Undoubtedly they would bring down a proposal for a re-arrangement of the divisions. It is because such an abnormal change of population has recently taken place that we urge that the distribution scheme recommended by the Commissioner, to the best of his ability, is not a just one.
– Does the honorable and learned member think it would be wise to alter the boundaries within two years if such a change took place ?
– That would depend upon circumstances. It would depend upon whether the arrangement of the population required it. The course proposed by the Government is, in my judgment, the nearest approach to what is best for Victoria and Australia at the present , moment.
– So far every representative of Victoria who has addressed the House upon this subject has favoured the proposal of the Government to disapprove of the boundaries recommended by the Commissioner. Whilst they all agree that Mr. Morrison is a very capable officer, and whilst they attach no blame to those who were charged with the duty of collecting the electoral returns, there is a unanimity amongst them in rejecting the scheme submitted. I venture to say, however, that the Commissioner has done good work, and that no scheme, produced would suit some of the honorable members of this House. Some honorable members have contended that, under the scheme submitted by him, the country districts have been unfairly treated ; and have read the first three replies given by the Commissioner to the objections sent to him, but none of them have proceeded to the fourth reply, where the Commissioner himself declares -
I ha’e taken advantage largely of the margin of allowance, and that if the margin of allowance had been departed from to the full extent of one-fifth less than the quota for the country divisions, the number of electors remaining in the city would have been such that with eight divisions only in the city, the one-fifth margin of allowance above the quota would have been exceeded.
Had the Commissioner kept to the margin of allowance to the full extent allowed, I venture to say that the electoral boundaries suggested would have required rearrangement within a period of three years. I might instance the electorate of Jika in this connexion. Settlement in that district is increasing very rapidly, chiefly owing to the construction of a new railway, and I am positive that before another election could take place the residents there would exceed the quota, and another redistribution would have to take place. Mr. Morrison adds -
There are 253,709 electors in the city “area as proposed ; and if eight divisions were provided, the average number of electors in each would be 31,713, or an average of 1,133 above the maximum margin of allowance under the law.
– That is, assuming that his figures are accurate.
– Honorable members have urged no objection to this scheme, save that owing to the drought there has been an exodus of people from the country districts to the metropolitan area. The honorable member for Gippsland has declared that as the result of the drought in the north of Victoria it is not necessary to alter the electoral boundaries of Gippsland, which is in the south. But I would .point out that there are at least five or six electorates which have not been affected by drought. These include the electorates of Flinders, Gippsland, Corangamite, Mernda, and Wannon. Their boundaries, it is urged, should not be altered simply because the population within the metropolitan district has increased and because it previously possessed sufficient representation. I do not think the metropolitan area has ever had fair representation. Further, I would point out that, according to the, census which was taken two days after our election to this House, there are 70,705 persons in my electorate, and only 44,000 in Gippsland - a difference of 26,000. The honorable member for Echuca declared that, in the Wimmera district, the police who were charged with the collection of the censusfound that a great number of the housesthere were empty. It contained only 39,315 persons at the collection of the: census. If we adopt the scheme which hasbeen recommended by Mr. Morrison, it is urged that we shall not do justice to the people of Victoria. I maintain that thatscheme will give greater satisfaction to thegeneral public than will the old electorates.
– It might in Collingwood^ Flat.
– The 35,000 persons living; in Collingwood Flat are just as much entitled to representation as are the 30,000 residents in the irrigation district, who donot pay their debts, and who had to get them wiped off by the State Parliament. The Minister for Trade and Customs has-, declared that if we reject the proposed boundaries they will not be returned to the Commissioner for revision. The honorableand learned member for Indi also pointed out that there was no need to adopt fresh electoral boundaries for three years. If we listen to arguments of that description weshall have a repetition of the existing stateof affairs for an indefinite period, because the evil day will be postponed as long aspossible. I am in favour of the schemerecommended by the Commissioner, notwithstanding that my electorate has been reduced by about one-fourth, and that I havemany friends living in the portion that hasbeen cut off. However, it is palpable thatthere is no chance of the proposed boundaries being adopted. I shall, however,, insist upon a division being taken, even if I have to submit an amendment. Somehonorable members contend that the country should haven larger measure of representation than the city. But I would point out thatthe honorable member for Kooyong and myself represent 72,364 electors as against- 72,271 electors in the districts of Wimmera,. Indi, Echuca, and Gippsland. Is that just? Can any honorable member say that, the country is entitled to such a proportion as that ? Reference has been made to thefact that the police in collecting the rolls overlooked some 40,000 voters, and that themajority of these were country electors. But- I would point out that in my own electorate, which contains 37,927 voters, there are; only 35,401 upon the roll. Consequently 2,526 are missing. Many applications have been made to me by residents who were> anxious to secure the insertion of their names upon the rolls. I believe that in some of the city constituencies a greater proportion of electors has been overlooked than is the case in the country constituencies. I repeat that the adoption” of the boundaries recommended will give greater satisfaction to the people of Victoria than will the old boundaries.
– I have listened very attentively to the Victorian contingent, but I do not think that any good reason has been put forward for the rejection of this distribution. In view of what is offered in its stead, I do not think we should reject it. Various contentions have been put before the House. We have had what I might describe as the drought argument, the gum-tree argument, and the want of capacity argument urged against the adoption of this scheme. We were told by the honorable member for Gippsland that the drought in Victoria’ was a most disastrous one, and that the House should extend its sympathies to all who had suffered by it. Some eight months ago certain honorable members sought to relieve the droughtstricken settlers and graziers of New South Wales by obtaining a remission of the fodder duties. But the honorable member for Gippsland declined then to recognise that they were entitled to our sympathy.
– I sympathized with them.
– Order. That matter is not relevant to the question before the Chair.
– I am referring to it simply with a view of showing the weakness of the drought argument. The honorable member for Gippsland said that the country was entitled to greater representation than was the town, and the Minister for Trade and Customs has told us that he has always held the opinion that the country should have greater representation than the city electorates.
– I did not say that.
– In other words, the honorable member said that one elector living in the country should be equal to two- residing in the city.
– The honorable member should not exaggerate the statement that was made.
– That is the position.
– The honorable member should put it fairly and straight.
– I am putting it as straight as the honorable member has everput any question. He contends really that, in the matter of representation gum trees, should count equally with flesh and bloodIt is rather late in the day to hear the statement made in a democratic Parliament such as this, that a country elector, simply because he lives in the country, should havegreater representation than has a, city elector. I should like to draw the attention of honorable members to the powers which are conferred upon the Parliament by the Constitution.- They show no distinction between town and country. Our powerto impo.se taxation bears equally upon individuals resident in town and country.. I am very glad that the honorable member for Yarra, as a representative of labour, has taken up a stand in favour of the schemeSpeaking on behalf of the people of Richmond and Collingwood, he inquired whethertheir desires and aspirations were not entitled to as much representation in this. House as were those of the people of Corangamite? Much has been said of personal friendships, but . in the Federal, arena we have no room for the consideration of such matters. The Federal Parliament will always be noted for the fact that it pays no regard to purely personal considerations. I have no personal interestin the adjustment of the Victorian electorates, and I could well understand a proposal to return the distribution to the Commissioner if honorable members who represent Victoria were dissatisfied -with it. The Minister, however, will not allow the distribution to be sent back to the Commissioner. He declares that we- must revertto the old system, and he is prepared to bringin a Bill to give effect to that proposal. When the Electoral Bill was before us it was urged that the many anomalies associated with the Victorian electorates warranted the passing of a Federal measure. We passed that Bill, and a Commissionerwas appointed to arrange the distribution of this State. He has done the work, and has presented us with his report. I do not say that we are bound to accept his distribution, but I contend that if we are dissatisfied with it we should send it back tohim for reconsideration. We certainly should not revert to the old system, about which somany complaints were made when theElectoral Bill was before us. The honorablemember for Gippsland says that the country should have greater representation than is afforded to the town. I was under the impression that we believed in the principle of “one man one vote” and “one vote one value.” We know that it is not practicable to exactly obtain one vote one value, but we should go as near as possible to theadoption of that principle. We gave the Commissioner a wide margin to work upon. We gave him power to include in a city division 10,000 electors in excess of the number in a country electorate, and I consider that that margin is a reasonable one. We are told now by the honorable and learned member for Indi that this trouble is due really to the neglect and ignorance shown by the Department for Home Affairs.
– He said nothing of the kind.
– He distinctly stated that the Commissioner arranged the distribution upon data obtained from the Department for Home Affairs, and that that data was unsatisfactory.
– The Commissioner framed it upon the particulars furnished by the police.
– The honorable and learned member said that that data was insufficient, and it was prepared by the officers of the Department for Home Affairs.
– The figures were collected by the police, and they are the officers of the State.
– If the machinery was faulty that fact is not to be used as an argumentagainst the Statesystem. It tells rather against the Minister’s administration of his Department. If the statement made by the honorable and learned member for Indi had come from the Opposition side of the House, the Minister for Trade and Customs would have interjected that it was prompted by party feeling.
– He made no such charge.
– I contend that he did. We are told now that it is impossible to refer the distribution back to the Commissioner, and to . have the necessary alterations made before the next general elections. With whom does the fault rest? Are the people or the Minister to be held responsible? We passed the Electoral Bill months ago, and i f the Minister h as allo wed his offi cers to dawdle over their work with the result that this distribution cannot be returned to the Commissioner, and amended as desired before the elections are held, the blame rests not with us, but with the honorable gentleman. The Minister is responsible for the acts of his officials, and if he failed to impress upon them the importance of expediting this work the fault rests not with the House, but with the honorable gentleman. So far as the New South Wales distribution is concerned, I have sent in no objection to the Commissioner. The old divisions would have suited me much better than do the new ones, but I intend to support the scheme, unless good reason can be shown for its rejection. If there is one thing more than another which is to be desired in connexion with the political life of Australia, it is that it should be free from the suggestion that our electoral laws are improperly administered, and that our electoral divisions are framed upon purely political considerations. The electors must feel satisfied that this is a people’s question rather than a politician’s question ; and because it is a people’s question I trust that the argument that the residents of country districts are entitled to greater representation than are the people living in large centres of population will not avail. If the Ministry were prepared to come forward at the next general election, and to State boldly that they considered that the country interests were greater than those of the city-
– The representation is greater under this distribution. :
– That is so. Even in this distribution there is a balance of 50,000 votes in favour of the country electorates.
– I am surprised that the honorable member is prepared to give the country districts any representation.
– I am astonished that an honorable member of the labour party which has nailed to the mast-head the motto “one man one vote, one vote one value,” should advocate special representation for country districts.
– The pioneer who goes out to Western Queensland is worth six electors in Brisbane.
– That fits in with the good old conservative notion that a man who has £10,000 in the bank and a terrace of houses is entitled to greater representation than is the individual who has no means. If that is his argument let us return to plural voting.
– I did not say that we should do so.
– Did not the honorable member for Dalley vote a Tasmanian 20 per cent. more power than that allowed to a New South Welshman.
– The honorable member is referring to equal representation in the Senate. He voted for that principle.
-I was against it ; but the honorable member voted for it.
– I voted for the Bill, and probably the honorable member did so.
– I did not.
– The Minister does not disguise the fact that he considers that the country electors should have more representation than is given the people living in the town. I call the attention of the honorable member for Maranoa to the fact that the Constitution makes no distinction between people living in the country and residents of large centres of population. Our powers of legislation affect not the social life of a citizen, but his capacity to bear taxation ; and the taxes which we impose fall equally upon town and country residents.
-The honorable member should try life in the country.
– We are told that over 300,000 additional names have been added to the Victorian Federal rolls by the enfranchisement of women. If those people are to be given the full advantage of the franchise, the contention that the dwellers in the country are entitled to a larger measure of representation than are the residents of the towns must not be conceded. In any event the female vote will always be larger in the towns than it is in the country. The honorable member for Yarra has shown that the drought did not extend to the electorates of Gippsland, Flinders, Wannon, or Corangamite; and, therefore, the argument that many of the country districts of Victoria were almost depopulated as the resultof the drought cannot apply to those divisions. But the representatives of some of those electorates are prepared to reject the scheme of distribution, because they do not consider that the country is fairly represented. I shall deal with the New South Wales scheme of distribution as I propose to deal with that relating to Victoria ; and if no stronger argument can be advanced for its rejection than has been put forward for the adoption of this motion, I shall support it. So far asmy electorate is concerned, I might be described as the possessor of a four-roomed house. I have an equal regard for each room ; but under the new scheme of distribution,one room has been taken from me. I should prefer to retain it ; but the fact that it has been taken from me will not induce me to vote against the scheme. This is not a party question. Several honorable members of the Opposition propose to vote for the Ministerial proposal, and I hope to see several Ministerial supporters voting with those members of the Opposition who object to it. I think that the leader of the Opposition was inclined to be too generous in the speech which he made this afternoon. It has been suggested that he hinted at gerrymandering. I shall not be surprised if, when the division takes place, we find that the Ministerial supporters and the representatives of Victoria are voting on party lines. If the proposal were to refer the scheme to the Commissioner, I should not object to it, but I am not prepared to disapprove of the proposed scheme when that means either a return to the existing conditions, or the leaving of the matter to the sweet will of the Minister. He has delayed the proceedings which should have been taken under the Electoral Act, and upon his shoulders must rest the blame. What we require is, not only that every adult shall have a vote, but that each vote shall be of equal value.
– Notwithstanding anything that the honorable member for Dalley may have said, I do not think that any member of the House considers that gum trees or bricks and mortar are entitled to the same representation as flesh and blood. I am willing to admit that some of the arguments which have been put forward in favour of the rejectionof this proposal are not very sound, more particularly in view of the fact that the extension of the franchise to women has practically doubled the number of the electors of the Commonwealth, and that the increase in the metropolitan districts is altogether out of proportion to that in therural districts.
– But the alteration in the representation amounts to only one representative.
– Eight thousand electors have been taken from the city and added tothe country.
– Even that would not restore the balance, because in Victoria, as I suppose in all the other States, the larger proportion of female electors resides in the metropolitan districts. I realize the difficulties which have confronted the Minister, and am prepared to recognise the disabilities under which the Commissioner has had to work. I would like to point out, however, that the Victorian Electoral law has hitherto recognised that country districts are entitled to more representation on a numerical basis than are the metropolitan districts.
– The Commonwealth Constitution has abolished that distinction.
– Yes ; but it must not be forgotten that we are dealing now with people who have been living under a law which made that distinction. I recognise that, so far as the Commonwealth elections are concerned, the position is now different. The matter, however, was brought under the consideration of honorable members when the Electoral Bill was before us. While the Minister, in introducing that Bill, stated clearly and distinctly, in reply to the honorable member for Gippsland, that he intended to make the electorates equal, the amendment of the honorable and learned member for Corinella in regard to the margin which was to be allowed, showed that honorable members are of opinion that special consideration should be given to the rural districts.
– Special consideration has been given to them.
– I recognise that that is so, and it was the intention of the honorable and learned member for Corinella, and of those who supported him, that that should be done. Consequently the disproportion which existed under the Victorian law is recognised to some extent by the Commonwealth law.
– And it has been provided for in the proposed scheme of redistribution.
– Yes, but not to the full extent.
– Yes, to the full extent.
– No; because the margin allowed is 10,000, while the average difference is only a little more than 4,000.
– The actual difference in some cases is 8,000.
– In the rural districts 332,395 electors return fifteen representatives, and in the ten metropolitan districts 253,705 electors return ten representatives, an average difference of about 4,000, which is a recognition, but not a full recognition, of the principle to which I have referred.
– Ought Ballarat, Bendigo, and Corio to be regarded as country electorates?
– There may be some justification for not regarding them as country electorates. I do not find sufficient cause for quarrelling with the recommendation of the Commissioner on that ground, however. But I have grave fault to find with the boundaries which have been allotted to some of the divisions; and if I sat alone I would divide the House on the question of referring the scheme back to the Commissioner.
– We would all help the honorable member to do that.
– That is what I should do if I had a free hand. Eailing the possi bility of referring the distribution to the Commissioner, I shall vote for the disapproval of it. In the division of the State electorates of Victoria, asource of discontent has always existed in the fact that for a distance of 45 miles the north-eastern railway line has been used as a boundary between two electorates. It is the only casein which a railway line is so used in Victoria. Now, it is laid down in the Commonwealth Electoral Act that community and diversity of interest, means of communication, and physical features shall be taken into consideration by the Commissioners. I am not quite clear what view theVictorian Commissioner took of the meaning of “ community of interests,” but, notwithstanding a vigorous protest from the electors in the district to which I refer, he has accentuated the trouble by using the line as a boundary for a distance of 90 miles, so that the sixteen railway townships between Avenel and Yarrawonga are each of them severed, and belong partly to one electorate and partly to another. This arrangement will not only put candidates to great inconvenience in compelling them to visit a great many more towns than it would otherwise be necessary for them to go to, but it divides the people of each township into two separate political entities. Is that a fair position? The convenience of all parties could be served by moving the dividing line 10 or 15 miles on either side of the railway, or by letting it take a zigzag course. As all these townships are in what is practically a farming district, they have, of course, community of interests, and I would have no fault to find with the scheme on that ground. , But the complete severance of centres of population whose commercial training and political interests require that they should not be severed is such a serious thing that, on that ground alone, I think that the scheme of distribution should be referred to the Commissioner for further consideration.
– The proposed boundaries of the new division of Kooyong take away a large number of electors whom, if I were to study my personal interests, I should bc very sorry to lose. In the new division there will be 15,599 male elector’s and 21,388 female electors, or 5,789 more female electors than male electors. Inasmuch as prior to the conferring of the franchise upon women, and since that time, I have expressed the belief that they would be better off without having the responsibility of voting cast upon them, it will be seen that my position is a peculiar- one. I do not think that the Minister has satisfactorily explained to the House why ther e has been so much delay in putting the report of the Commissioner before us. In my opinion his Department deserves condemnation. I think that the proper step to take with regard to the Commissioner’s proposed distribution is to refer it to him for revision. If we were to refer the report back to the Commissioner, it would be impossible for him at the last moment to give proper consideration to the re-adjustment of the boundaries. I say in all frankness that I do not attach the same importance as do some other honorable members to the effects of the drought in depleting the country districts of population. But at the same time I should be very sorry to see the slightest injustice done to those who are engaged in the great producing industries of’ the country. It would be a great calamity if the interests of the country residents were insufficiently represented in this House. That is my sole reason for supporting the Government on this occasion. I thought that the Commissioner was instructed to take into consideration the means of communication between different parts of the country, because these have an important bearing upon the number of votes recorded. I find, on reference to the Statistical Register, that some very interesting figures are given with regard to the percentage of votes recorded in various metropolitan and country electorates. In Yarra, which has a. total population of 70,6S0, and 15,S59 electors on the roll, 61 per cent, of the electors recorded their votes at the last election. The figures for the other electorates were as follow : - Wimmera, 48 per cent. ; Wannon, 60 per cent. ; Southern Melbourne, 60 percent. ; Northern Melbourne, 54 per cent. ; Moira, 50 per cent. ; Mernda, 50 per cent. : Melbourne, 60 per cent. ; Laanecoorie, 57 per cent. ; Kooyong, 63 per cent. ; Indi, 58 per cent. ; Grampians, 49 per cent. ; Gippsland, 46 per cent. ; Flinders, 58 per cent. ; Echuca, 54 percent.; Corio, 54 percent.; Corinella, 56percent.; Corangamite, 48 percent.; Bourke, 64 per cent, and Ballarat, 46 percent. The percentages for Port Melbourne and Bendigo are not given. It will, therefore, be seen that on the average 55 per cent, of votes were recorded, and that, contrary to expectation, those recorded in the country approach very closely to the percentage of votes recorded in the city electorates. I regret that the Commissioner did not see his way to include Oakleigh in the Kooyong electorate. The town of Oakleigh is essentially a suburb of the city, and it can have no community of interest with the other portions of the division with which it has been associated, and which extends right away to the Murray. I am sure that the Commissioner had a most difficult task to perform, and that he endeavoured to adjust the boundaries in a just and equitable manner. Therefore, although I take exception to his action in regard to Oakleigh, I do not wish it to be understood that I am in any way reflecting upon the ability or the care which he bestowed upon his .work. Apart altogether from the technical questions raised by the leader of the Opposition and. others, I am supporting the Government in the belief that it is desirable that the producing interests of the country should be fully represented in this House.
– The House is engaged in discussing one of the most important subjects that could engage the attention of Parliament. I think we should divest the debate of all party feeling, and . view the matter as one affecting the observance of the spirit of the Constitution and of the Electoral Act. The Minister appears before us in a very extraordinary character. He was the author of the Electoral Act, which imposes a solemn responsibility upon the Electoral Commissioner. The Minister appointed the Commissioner to undertake these responsibilities, and now calmly asks us to set aside the work that has been done upon his statement, unsupported by any evidence, that there has been a great movement of population from the country to the metropolis.
– My statement was strongly supported by figures.
Mr.F. E. McLEAN.- The honorable member did not quote any figures whatever to show that there had been any great transfer of population from the country to the city.
– Yes, I did.
Mr.F. E. McLEAN.- The honorable gentleman gave us particulars as to the number of voters, but he did not give us any figures whatever to support the statement that there had been an exodus of population from the country districts, and that the metropolis had been to a large extent benefited by that movement. The Minister must have known perfectly well when he introduced the Franchise Bill extending the franchise to women that it would lead to a very large increase of voting power, so far as the metropolis is concerned, and honorable members must have been rather surprised to find that the work of redistribution made the difference of only one electorate in favour of the city as against the country. We were inclined to suppose that the overwhelming proportion of female voters in the city would have made very much more difference. Although only one electorate had been added to the metropolitan constituencies the Minister asks us to repudiate our own work. He asks us to perpetuate the present conditions knowing that there are disparities of population, and that the present boundaries are not suited to the circumstances of the Commonwealth under the altered franchise. The Minister gained a great deal of political renown as the author of the Franchise Act, which conferred on women the right to vote. If I recollect aright, the ladies of Sydney presented him with a beautiful snuff box, or some other handsome testimonial, as a recognition of his splendid services in endowing them with the right to vote. The Minister did not, however, tell the women of the Commonwealth on that occasion that he intended to put the women of the country in a much better position than those of the town ; that he proposed to ignore the principle of one vote one value, which is embodied in the Constitution. The honorable member is the author of all the Acts which establish that principle, and now he has the hardihood to tell us that he never believed in the electors of the city having the same voting power as the elector of the country.
– I did not say anything of the kind, but I quoted figures to show what was done in other parts of the world.
– The Minister may not have said so in so many words, but he made a strong appeal in favour of greater proportional representation for country electors. If 10,000 voters in the country can return one member, whilst it requires 15,000 or 20,000 voters to elect one member in the metropolis, is that not equivalent to. giving greater voting power to the country electors ?
– I said that it was. the practice in other parts of the world to give greater voting power to country electors than to city electors, but I do not think I mentioned that as my opinion.
– The Minister said that he had always been of that opinion, and his history shows that what he stated was true. His present attitude is quite consistent with that which he adopted when the Electoral Act of New South Wales was passed. The honorable gentleman stated clearly and emphatically that he had always - been in favour of giving the country elector greater voting power than the city elector. If he did not say that, I must be dazed. He quoted other countries where the same principle had been adopted.
– It seems of no use for me to deny the statement, but it is not correct.
– The honorable gentleman made the statement when he introduced the Electoral Act.
– I know I did, but not to-night.
– A great deal has been said about the 20 per cent. margin that has been given to the Electoral Commissioner to be used at his discretion, as though that had been done in the interests of the country electors. It was never intended for any such purpose.
– Does the honorable member recollect the amendment which was moved by the honorable and learned member for Corinella for that purpose ?
– There was a contention that we should recognise the principle that had been followed in the State of Victoria, that there should be one quota for the city electorates and a different quota for the country electorates. But there was no understanding that the country electors were to have a 20 per cent. advantage in the arrangement of the areas.
– That was the object of the amendment.
Mr.F. E. McLEAN. - Not at all. We laid down the principle that community of interest should be taken into consideration in the distribution of electorates, and knowing that it is not always possible to keep these interests in view and at the same time to divide the country into areas equal in population, the Commissioner had to be allowed to exercise some discretionary power. The Electoral Commissioner himself, in his report, states that this discretionary power has been exercised in the interests of the country electors. On the first page of his report he says -
In view of the fact that the quota of electors is to be the basis of distribution, the area comprised in the existing country divisions would be entitled, strictly speaking, to about 123/4 members, and, the city to about10¼ members. As, however, section16 of the Act referred to grants a discretionary power to depart to the extent of one-fifth more or one-fifth less than the quota, and having in view the recognised interests as between country and city, and that many electors in drought-stricken areas were temporarily residing in the city, I deemed it prudent to exercise that power to a very large extent.
The Electoral Commissioner himself says that he has given every consideration to the loss of population by the country districts owing to the drought, and has availed himself of the discretionary power allowed to him. But what is the demand that has been set up by honorable members who wish to give a greater voting power to country electors ? It is that there have been thousands and tens of thousands - I should not have been surprised if it had been said hundreds of thousands - of electors who have left the drought-stricken areas and congregated in the cities. Does any honorable member seriously believe that there are tens of thousands who had left the country and were residing in Melbourne and suburbs at the time the Commissioner was doing his work ?
– A great number were travelling with stock in the southern districts.
Mr.F. E. McLEAN. - A considerable number of people are always travelling in the country, whether in times of drought or in times of plenty. The provision of which the Commissioner says he has availed himself liberally, covers all the requirements that have been insisted upon during the course of the debate. Yet we are asked solemnly to set aside all the work that the Commissioner has done, and to perpetuate the anomalies that exist under the present scheme of distribution.
– Why was that clause, giving; power to Parliament to ratify the distribution, put in the Act if it is useless ?
Mr.F. E. McLEAN. - It was wise and proper to provide that the final power should rest with Parliament.
– But the honorable member’s argument means that the power should not be there.
– The honorable member has not grasped what I intended to convey. I contend that as a matter of policy the Government, unless they can show that the work of the Commissioner has been badly done, and that he has not performed his work faithfully and well, are honorably bound to stand by his work.
– The honorable member will not give them “ a show “ to do that.
– They do not want “ a show “ to do it. They want “ a show” to depart from the work of the Commissioner. I fully recognise that the final power must rest with Parliament of rejecting or adopting the scheme. I do not find fault with the Government for bringing it before Parliament. What I object to is the attitude of the Government in repudiating the work of their own hand. The Government cannot escape from their responsibility for what the Commissioner has done. If the House likes to reject the work, it is open to them to do so, after full consideration, and on the ground of public policy. But the Government are bound to stand by the work of their Commissioner. Why did they introduce a Bill prescribing that this method of redistributing seats should be free from political control and should be performed by an impartial officer without interference from Members of Parliament, or members of the Government, unless they intended to abide by the work when it was done 1 What is the object of appointing a high-minded public official to do this work impartially unless his work is to be accepted when it is done 1 I cannot divine the object which the Government have in view. The leader of the Opposition has said that he declines to impart anything like a party tone into the discussion ; but when the Government appoint a public official to perform work laid down in an Act of Parliament, unless they can show reasonable grounds for the supposition that he has departed from his instructions and muddled his work, or has been proved to he incompetent, they have no right to depart from his recommendations. Otherwise to do so amounts to” political interference with the distribution of the electoral power of the Commonwealth. I do not pretend for one moment to say that one set of divisions would be more advantageous to the Government as a Government than any other distribution ; but the Government have no right to bring political influence to bear in this matter. The plain duty of the Government was to bring down a motion approving of the work -of the Commissioner.
– Even if it were bacl?
– The Government do not think the work is bad, and they cannot think so, unless they wish to cast a stigma on their officer, We are told that the statistics and information furnished to the officer were all wrong; but if that be so, the responsibility rests with the Department for Home Affairs, from which the information was supplied. Any re- flection on the Commissioner must only “come home” to the Government them.selves, because they are responsible for the data on which he framed his report. I have never before known a Ministry come down with a motion to set aside the work of their own hands. The whole of the pro- visions under which that work was done are contained in an Act introduced by the Government themselves, and surely they ought to see that those provisions are carried out. The only good reason they can give for not approving of the suggested distribution is that they wish the next election to take place under the old arrangements, with no alteration of existing boundaries. I can quite understand that most of us would be a great deal better pleased to let the electorates, remain as they are. Honorable members, having won their seats on the present electoral distribution, have no anxiety to disturb the conditions ; and it would be the easiest thing in the world to let the proposed distribution fall through, and have the next elections under the old arrangement. Is that the way in which the Commonwealth Parliament are. to be asked by the guardians of the Constitution to do its work 1 The most remarkable thing in the discussion is that it is the guardian angels of the Constitution - honorable members who have always posed as high constitutional authorities and exponents of federalism - who ask us to put on one side our own electoral arrangements, and fall back on the mere makeshift that was supplied by the States Parliaments, in order te carry out the first Federal elections. One of the first duties of the Federal Parliament, in its legislative capacity, was to provide machinery for carrying out the next elections. We knew perfectly well that the arrangements made by the States were only temporary - that they were only a makeshift at the very best - and yet it ‘ is proposed . to perpetuate those arrangements with all the incidental anomalies. If there had been no female franchise introduced, there were such anomalies in the various electorates that a redistribution was imperative; but, by reason of the enormous increase of voting power in some of the States, by reason of the extension of the franchise to women, a redistribution has become doubly imperative. Now we are met by a request from the first Federal Government in Australia, who should have been most loyal to the Constitution, and the first to carry out their own Acts, to repudiate our own work and fall back on temporary and unsatisfactory arrangements with all their anomalies and inequalities. The whole position is degrading to Parliament ;’ and it is not to be wondered at that the people of the Commonwealth are gradually losing faith in parliamentary institutions. Such an attitude on the part of the people is not to be wondered at when they see the way in which great principles are trifled with, and the way in which laws made by this Parliament itself are ruthlessly set aside and trampled on by the Government of the day. We passed an electoral law, and provided for the distribution of the various States into electoral areas. Under the authority of that law we commissioned certain officers to map out those areas ; and yet the Government of the day, who are responsible for the legislation, and are responsible for the work of the Commissioner, now seek to set it aside. What sort of responsible government is it when we have Ministers repudiating the work of their own high officers who have only literally carried out the mandate of an Act of Parliament ? Is that not trifling with the legislation we have passed ? It is most unfortunate that the affairs of this Commonwealth should be in. the hands of a Government who have so little regard for the principles of the Constitution and of the Acts they have themselves induced Parliament to pass. There will be an election probably within very few weeks or months, and, after an existence of two years and a half, we have to confess that we are not in a position to go to the country under our own Electoral Act, and with electoral boundaries established by ourselves. As the Minister admitted this afternoon he will have to come to Parliament in order to have the electoral boundaries fixed by the States Governments made legal, while time which might have been profitably occupied in dividing the States has been wasted. I trust the House will reject the motion submitted by the Government. I do not know whether the honorable member for Yarra was speaking with authority when he said he thought the motion was certain to be carried, and that it was almost useless to speak in opposition to it. I hope that honorable members who assisted to pass the Electoral Act will regard it as their duty to see that its provisions are carried out, and that the work of the Commissioner is not set on one side. I know that it is quite open to Parliament in its judgment to reject the scheme, but it is unfortunate and humiliating that we should be asked to do so by the Government at whose instance we passed the Electoral Act and appointed the Commissioner whose work they now seek to destroy.
– It will come as a great surprise to the admirers of the Minister for Trade and Customs to find that he is not going to stand by his officers. If there is one thing for which the Minister is given credit more than another, it is standing by his officers who carry out instructions. The honorable gentleman introduced a Bill which was passed, and in which certain instructions were given to a Commissioner appointed by himself. When the result of the Commissioner’s work is laid before Parliament, although the Minister has the opportunity of returning the report with further definite instructions from this Parliament, he takes the opposite course of asking us to reject the scheme of this capable officer. The arguments which have been brought forward repeatedly in favour of the rejection of the proposed distribution are quite consistent with the arguments used when the Electoral Bill was before the House some time ago. The honorable member for Gippsland is quite consistent. Upon that occasion he made a vigorous and telling speech from his point of view in favour of giving greater representation to the country than to the metropolitan districts. To-day he has practically repeated his arguments. The honorable and learned member for Indi, in reply to a question as to whether he thought it would be wise to make a redistribution of the electoral boundaries within a period of two years should some migratory change occur in the population, declared that it would depend entirely upon circumstances. The Minister for Trade arid Customs says that, owing to the prevalence of drought conditions, population has drifted from the country into the large centres. But I have before me a list of districts in Victoria which were not affected by drought. They include the electorates of Corangamite, Corio,Flinders, and Wannon. Some of the largest districts in this State were not affected by the recent drought. . We are told that population has drifted to the city. That, to some extent, however, is no new thing. Months ago, before the drought was so acute in Victoria as it subsequently became, Senator Pulsford adduced figures to show that in the cities of this State there would be a larger aggregation of women than there would be in the country. If one travels through the rural districts, he will find that the domestic servants employed in’ the city are to a large extent recruited from those districts. Therefore, it is only natural that in the large centres the women will predominate. As we believe in the principle of equal representation, I hold that under this redistribution scheme one vote should represent one value. Those who profess to be strong democrats, and who to-day pose as champions of women’s rights, cannot do better than see that the other sex. are adequately represented, and that the same value attaches to their votes that attaches to those of men. Of late years’ the Minister for Trade and Customs has become the idol of a large and influential body in New South Wales known as the Women’s Progressive Association. I am glad to say that in common with him I enjoy the confidence of that association, and am the accredited representative of that body, a fact which goes to prove that it is not a protectionist organization. If the Minister wishes to do justice to those women, he should refer this scheme back to the Commissioner with instructions to revise it, and return it to Parliament at the earliest possible date.. It seems to me that Mr. Morrison has done his work extremely well. The electorates, as shown on the map, are most compact. Since he has discharged his duty so faithfully, it would be wrong to reject his scheme. ‘ 1 regret that an impression is entertained by some honorable members that the work of this Parliament relating to the distribution of seats should be done by the States Legislatures. To my mind, it is our duty to see that the scheme of redistribution is effected according to Federal ideas. A little time ago some representatives of Victoria laid special emphasis upon the fact that Federal officers had not been employed to do certain work for the Commonwealth. I agreed with those honorable members, and now hold that our own officers should be intrusted with this work. I appeal to honorable members not to lightly reject the work of our own officials, and adopt that of the States Parliaments, which is admittedly imperfect, and is not in accordance with the provisions of the Act that we have passed.
– I desire to point out to the honorable member who has just resumed his seat that he has fallen into the same error as the leader of the Opposition, in assuming either that in the existing electorates in Victoria and New South Wales, or in the proposed subdivision, an attempt has been made to differentiate between male and female electors. I find it difficult to follow the reasons which have been advanced for the purpose of showing that the existing electorates or the proposed districts in either Victoria or new South Wales will be affected by the sex of the voters in those constituencies. I desire to say a word or two in reference to some statements which were made by the honorable member for Lang at the time the Electoral Bill was under consideration. The honorable member seems to have altered his view about the intention of the Act, because when these clauses were under consideration in their amended form, and the honorable member for Parramatta moved to omit as one of the considerations to guide the Commissioner “ the existing boundaries of divisions,” the honorable member for Lang said -
I hope the amendment will not be pressed. It appears to me that the quota and the margin are ample safeguards against any great inequalities of misrepresentation.
Later on the honorable’ member said -
We are laying down a safe principle - that as far as possible existing electorates shall not be disturbed unless to comply with the conditions of the law.
That is what I understood was one of the objects Parliament had in passing the Bill in the form in which it actually became law.
– What honorable member said that?
– The honorable member for Lang, Mr. F. E. McLean. If honorable members will look at the map of either Victoria or New South Wales they will find an immense number of alterations of existing electorates, which are by no means necessary if we desire only to so alter them as to comply with the conditions of the law. Consequently, so far as that is concerned, the honorable member for Lang appears to have taken up a new attitude now, as compared with the attitude which he took up last session.
– And this is the thanks which the honorable and learned member gives the honorable member for Lang for helping him at that time.
– The honorable member for Lang is not helping me now. I have also looked at the discussion which took place on the Bill as introduced and as amended to its present form. I find that the honorable member for Gippsland moved to omit the words which declared that the quota should be adhered to as nearly as practicable. Those words were ultimately omitted, and the honorable member then pointed out that one vote one value did not mean one vote one equal fractional value of an electorate. I believe in one vote one value, but it is just because I know that one vote one value is not attained by absolutely equal electorates in city and country, utterly regardless of physical conditions, means of communication and scattered population, that I do not believe in an absolute equality of electors in city and country electorates. In speaking upon this matter, I said -
I think the Bill might be improver! by combining clauses 17 and IS.
Clauses 17 and 18 were combined, and are now to be found in section 16 of the Act. I explained that the result would be that it would be possible to give effect then to the principle that had obtained in Victoria of making, a difference between city and country electorates, grounded on the fact that they are city and country electorates. I said -
The Bill should show clearly that owing to the disadvantages under which country electors labour, it is intended that there should be a distinction between country and cib)’ electorates within the prescribed limits. As the clause stands, the Commissioners in each State might take a different view and split up the States on entirely different bases. This and the next clause should be combined. The words proposed to be omitted should be struck out, and clause 18 should be amended so as to indicate that the proportion of population to the area should be taken into consideration by the Commissioner.
There were no actual words introduced, specifically pointing that Out, but the combination of the clauses which I suggested, and which was carried into effect, indicates very clearly what was intended. It is because, in my humble judgment, the true number of country electors in Victoria, and probably in’ New South Wales also, has not been really ascertained with the same degree of accuracy as has the number of city electors, that I think it would be. very unwise for us to adopt a division founded upon wrong data - at all events upon data which the Commissioner himself admits may be wrong data. - when, by adopting that division, we may settle, for a number of years to come, a distribution of the States into electorates which would not be fair.
– Why for years to come?
– I shall say why in a minute. We should be adopting a distribution which would be the result of figures which have not always been ascertained with great accuracy under the special, exceptional, and abnormal circumstances of their collection. As the leader of the Opposition has suggested, if the electoral census were taken during Melbourne Cup week 8 l 2 it could not be regarded as a correct census any more than could the census taken recently in connexion with this division. I quite agree with the right honorable gentleman that if the census were taken in Melbourne Cup week an unfair division would probably result, and we might even find that Victoria should be given a member at the expense of New South Wales. What could be more unfair than that 1 That would be an outrage upon natural justice, which would probably cause the roof of the Victorian Parliament House to fall in upon the iniquitous evil-doers who had a hand in bringing such a result about. I will tell the honorable member for Parramatta why I think this distribution is a distribution for some considerable period. I, for one, do not think that the founders of the Constitution ever intended that the so-called statistics, either of State or of Commonwealth, which are made up for the most part of estimates of emigration and immigration, making allowances for this and for that, should be the basis upon which a redistribution should take place for every Parliament. That could never have been the intention of the founders of the Constitution. The American practice is the proper one, and there a redistribution takes place after every census, if the census discloses a necessity for it. The census really will supply the only proper data upon which to found a redistribution. The circumstances of the birth of the Commonwealth are such that we cannot do that on the present occasion ; and I say that the distribution now decided upon should stand until the next census is taken. It will consequently be a distribution extending over a number of years. It would be a bad thing for the Commonwealth and for this Parliament if we were to lay down a rule that there must be a redistribution of seats every time that the statisticians’ estimates suggest that an alteration might be made.
– If there were a sudden dissolution some honorable members might desire a change to be made.
– I suppose that if there were a penal dissolution at the end of twelve months, and it was discovered that there were two men more in Victoria or two men less in New South Wales, and that that would change something under half a quota to something over half a quota, it might be suggested that the whole system should be reviewed, and the existing electorates revised in order to set matters right. I say unhesitatingly that a distribution should not be made except on complete data, and when it is made it should last until the next census. I say that the decennial period adopted in America is the period which the framers of the Constitution intended should be adopted here. To return to the matter more immediately before us, in supporting the Government in disapproving of the adoption of this particular scheme, I am joining in the exercise of a right that this Parliament especially reserved to itself, because it knew that it could not possibly leave to any outside body the final approval or disapproval pf any distribution proposed.
– We do not make the distribution ourselves.
– That is so, and, therefore, the honorable member says we must accept a distribution the approval or disapproval of which we have expressly reserved to ourselves.
– The honorable and learned member desires to force the Commissioner into doing it our way.
– I wish to do nothing of the kind, but I say that so long as the Commissioner does not submit a scheme of which this House approves’, that scheme will not be adopted.
– And it will go back to the Commissioner until it is.
– If necessary, it will go back to the Commissioner until it is, but that is the plan which Parliament deliberately adopted. The honorable member for Parramatta was a party to the adoption of the scheme, and raised no protesting voice at the time.
– Did I not 1
– As to the question whether Parliament should approve or disapprove of the scheme suggested by the Commissioner, we might as well say that the owner or controller of a great business who asks his subordinates to submit proposals for carrying out certain business details, should be bound by those proposals, because he leaves the suggestion of the new scheme to them.
– Our position is very different, inasmuch as we have surrendered our own right to do this.
– We have done nothing of the kind. As an honorable member has reminded me, we are trustees for the people of Australia. All that we have done has been to appoint an agent to perform work that is partly mechanical and partly founded upon a knowledge of the conditions of each State. The honorable member might as well say that a public meeting which allows certain motions to be framed for submission to it delegates the control of those motions and their acceptance or non-acceptance to the people who framed them. ,
– There is no analogy between the two cases.
– The honorable member might as well say that when this Parliament appoints a Standing Orders Committee to 0 frame its standing orders it parts with its control over the question of what rules it shall adopt.
– The public meeting could alter the resolutions, and the House could alter the standing orders, but we cannot alter these schemes. We have surrendered our right to touch them.
– We have surrendered the right to alter them. We have not surrendered the right to accept or to reject them ; and that is the whole issue.
– That is the distinction.
– We have presumably said that it might not be to the political advantage of the community as a whole to leave ourselves free to alter the schemes in detail. Personally I did not agree with the proposal that schemes should be prepared by Commissioners. I protested against it when the Electoral Bill was before us. For certain reasons we declined to allow the House to make any alteration in the ‘details of »a scheme. We have parted with all our rights in respect of these schemes, except the right to approve of or reject them as a whole. It behoves us, therefore, to see that we do not accept a scheme with which we are dissatisfied, in view of the fact that we are unable to alter an obvious wrong.
– But we are to make the Commissioner arrange the details to suit ourselves.
– Until the Commissioner submits a distribution with which the trustees of the nation are satisfied, no I scheme will be adopted. The Commissioner is after all not an archangel ; it is conceivable that the Commissioner selected by the Government, although he is a Victorian, might make a mistake. He might fail to recognise the true facts, or conceive that his duty compelled him to disregard what he believed to be the true facts of the position. That is what he appears practically to have said in his report. In my opinion the true number of electors in Victoria has not been ascertained by the recent investigations. I believe that the loss in the country districts is not more than the loss in the city districts, and that the Commissioner has disregarded existing boundaries to an extent, which the honorable member for Lang, whatever may be his present opinion, did not approve of last session. Instead of regarding existing boundaries, and endeavouring to allow for the missing electors, the Commissioner has brought down a scheme which conforms more to his idea of what the Act means, although it does not follow that his idea of the meaning of the Act is correct. When amendments were made in the clauses in the Electoral Bill which relate to this question, they were made with the avowed object of insuring that there should be at least an opportunity to distinguish between the sizes of electorates and the number of electors in them on the express ground that some were country and some were city divisions. Unless we recognise that difference we shall never give true effect to the principle of “ one vote one value.” We depart from that principle if we say that “ one value “ simply means one arithmetical value. It means one political value, and that is a very different thing. I think that the course proposed by the Government is a perfectly proper one, and that honorable members are fully justified in supporting them. They will be justified in supporting them until they are satisfied that the scheme proposed to be adopted is one which will give failplay to all. I have no desire to rob the city of its proper proportion of representation, nor have I any desire to rob the country of its fair share of representation. My electorate is neither a town nor a country division. It is one of the smallest of the non-metropolitan constituencies. It embraces a number of fairly large towns ; so that it is urban as well as rural in its character. I am therefore open to take either view of this question so far as my electorate is con.cerned. because it cannot be described as being either a purely country constituency or a city division. I desire equitable terms for all parties. That is not possible in the present circumstances. The return of this scheme to the Commissioner would mean no election for the House of Representatives in December next, and that would be a much greater wrong to the people than would be the–
– The Minister says that it could be returned and reconsidered in time for the next elections.
– If everything moved by clock-work it might be done.
– It might be done ; but I do not propose that it shall be done.
– The number of days over which each operation must extend might possibly bring us very close to Christmas ; it does not follow that the distribution could be returned to the Commissioner and dealt with before the next elections.
– The Minister says that it could.
– Would Parliament approve of it within that time ?
– I do not think so.
– We are near enough to the end of the year to make it necessary, in order that everything may be placed in proper order for the elections, to have the electoral divisions promptly determined. Honorable members seem to forget all the arrangements which it is necessary to make after the electoral boundaries have been determined, in order to insure that every elector shall have a proper opportunity to record his vote.
An Honorable Member. - The necessary printing alone must take some time.
– Honorable members are aware of the necessity of preparing the rolls, and of allowing every man an opportunity to have his name placed upon them after he has ascertained the electorate in which his district will be included. Looking at the practical side of the question I think it would be impossible to have this scheme returned to the Commissioner and finally dealt with before the next elections ; and, therefore, I am satisfied with the proposal that, instead of returning the distribution to the Commissioner, we should, fall back upon the existing electorates. If there, were really time–not theoretically but practically - to allow the alteration to be made, I should support the return of the distribution for reconsideration by the Commissioner, although I am afraid that little good would result from the adoption of that course. The Commissioner would have the same facts “before him that he had when preparing this distribution, and he would probably disregard those same facts. That would vitiate the value of his redistribution, and leave us in the position that we now occupy.
– I think that the Minister - and, through him, the Government as a whole - have behaved very badly in submitting this motion at the present time. They seem to have overlooked the fact that there are six States in the Commonwealth ; for in their present proposal no reference is made to the States of Western Australia and Tasmania.
– Will the honorable member pardon me 1 The time allowed for the preparation of the scheme of distribution in the States he has named has not yet expired, and I cannot deal with them until thuy have been laid upon the table.
– I think the Minister should have waited until he was in a position to deal with all the States. The Minister has succeeded in getting the House to approve of the Commissioner’s distribution of South Australia, though that State, like Tasmania, formerly voted as one constituency. He asks the House, however, to disapprove of the proposed distributions of the Commissioners of New South Wales, Victoria, and Queensland, and that action must give rise to the suspicion, inasmuch as the largest number of members come from those States, that pressure has been put upon the Government to retain the original boundaries because of the better chance of re-election which it will give to the sitting members.
– The honorable member should not let out the truth like that. x
– lt is better to tell the truth, more especially as I have no interest in the matter. Had the Minister deferred the consideration of the Commissioners’ reports in respect to the four States of South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales, and Queensland until the reports upon the other two States were ready, we might have succeeded, if my fellow representatives are of the same opinion as I am, in inducing him to ask the
House to disapprove of the proposed distribution of Tasmania.
– Does not the honorable member wish to see Tasmania divided into electorates 1
– No. I hope that thepeople of Tasmania will vote as one electorate, because I have always held that the larger the electorate, the truer the representation, and the less the local influence brought into play. I shall vote against the motion. Had the Government proposed to repeal theElectoral Act on the ground that they were’ not able to give proper effect to its provisions, and to revert to the old conditions, I should have supported them ; but I shall vote against the proposal to disapprove of the scheme of distribution for the three largest States.
Mr. SYDNEY SMITH (Macquarie).As I shall take some time to say what I have to say on the motion, and as the hour is late,. I hope that the Minister will consent to an adjournment of the debate.
– No ; let us take a vote tonight.
– Cannot the honorable member defer what he has to say until the motion with regard to the New South Wales distribution is before the House 1
– No; because- I wish to deal fully with the legal aspect of the case on the motion now under consideration. However, as honorable members do not feel disposed to accede to a reasonable request, I regret that I shall becalled upon-
– To stone-wall.
– No, None of the speeches delivered to-night have indicated a desire on the part of honorablemembers to do anything of that kind. We wish to debate the matter fairly, but we have no wish to cause delay. The Minister, in the very short speech with which he thought it necessary to- move the motion, set out the reasons which actuated him in asking the House to disapprove of the proposed distribution of theCommissioner ; but it appeared to me that they afford no sound argument for doing what he suggests. To my mind, he wishesto consult the views of political supportersrather than to consider the interests of theCommonwealth. He told us that the Com. missioner had not considered the effectwhich the recent drought has had upon the- movements of the population of “Victoria, but I find, on referring to the report, that the Commissioner paid special attention to that matter. Moreover, as the honorable member for Robertson has pointed out, four of the largest of the country districts of Victoria did not suffer from the drought, so that whatever number of persons may have been compelled to leave them from other causes, those districts could not have lost population because of the drought. If we were acting in our own interests as a party we should allow the proposals of the Government to be adhered to, because they would probably prove to our advantage. We are not, however, swayed by any such considerations. We are acting in what we conceive to be. the public interest. I do not think that honorable members can argue for one moment that there was any drought in Victoriain 1901. Therefore, the census taken in that year should furnish us with some valuable information bearing upon the proportion of electors in the city and country constituencies. I find that in the eight city constituencies there were 271,000 male and female adults, exclusive of foreigners, lunatics, prisoners, and aboriginals. In the -fifteen country constituencies there were 353,000 adults.’ If we divide the number of adults in the city constituencies by eight, that being the number of electorates, we find that the average number of electors for each city constituency would amount to 33,875. Applying the same process to the country constituencies, the average works out at 23,533 electors for each division. That represents a difference of about 10,000 per -electorate between the city and country divisions. If the figures given in the census of 1901 are applied to the electoral divisions recommended by the Commissioner, and the divisors of nine and fourteen are adopted for the city and country electors respectively, the averages will work out at 30,100 electors per division in the city, and 25,200 electors per division in the country. Therefore, there would still be an advantage of about 5,000 electors per constituency in favour of the country electorates. I think that shows clearly that there is no justification whatever for the statement put forward by the Government. lt seems to me that Ministers are now breaking the promises which they made when the Electoral Bill was introduced. It has been suggested that, unless a redistribution of the electorates were made by this House, it would be within the power of the Victorian Parliament to pass a measure for the division of the State into electorates for the purposes of the Federal election. If such action were taken a great reflection would be cost upon this House. I feel strongly upon this matter, and I had intended to deal more fully with it; but, perhaps, it would be better to reserve any remarks I may have to make upon the important principle involved in the Government proposals when the distribution of electorates in Kew South Wales is under discussion. I believe that a great mistake is being made, and that the Government are rendering themselves liable to the suspicion that they are endeavouring to manipulate the electorates in order to suit their own party purposes.
– No one has mode such a charge.
– I am afraid that they arc exposing themselves to such an accusation, but I do not wish to deal with the matter from that stand-point. The Government are attempting to perpetrate a great WrOng upon the electors of the Commonwealth, and are altogether ignoring the interests of the female voters for whom they have previously expressed so much concern. I feel sure that the female voters will not view the matter in the same light as the Minister. They will see that he only professed, and recognising that there was a danger-
– Let the honorable member say all the nasty things he can when, the motion relating to New South Wales is before the House.
– 1 told my honorable friend just now that I did not rise for the purpose of prolonging the debate - and he knows that I am not often at a loss for words to express my views- -but for the purpose .of entering my strong protest against the attitude adopted by the Government with regard to the redistribution of the electorates. The position has been so well put by the leader of the Opposition that I feel sure that, when the people of the Commonwealth realize that the Parliament is interfering with their right to vote under the Electoral Act, they will say that it does not reflect any credit on the Government. I am very sorry that they are seeking to prevent a large number of electors from recording their votes.
Question put. The House divided.
Majority … … … 25
– I move -
That the House do now adjourn.
It is intended to-morrow to take the motions relating to the electoral divisions, and, in the event of there being any spare time, to consider the amendments made by the Senate in the Judiciary and High Court Procedure Bills.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 11 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 13 August 1903, viewed 6 July 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1903/19030813_reps_1_15/>.